If you're frustrated with how you and your spouse interact on a daily basis, use these five tips to make immediate improvements. If you need to focus on only one of these tips, focus on the first:
NUMBER 1: It's not what was said, it's what was heard. Here's a common type of conversational battle:
"You said X"
"No I didn't!"
"Yes you did! I heard you say it! I can't believe you don't remember!"
"But I didn't say that!"
Bottom line? In most cases, it doesn't matter what was said. What matters is what was heard. Instead of getting derailed in a "he said/she said" fight, start over. Say "That's not what I was trying to communicate. Let me restate it another way" or "I must not have heard you clearly. Can you tell me again, perhaps using other words?" Clarity of statement from one spouse is for the purpose of clarity of understanding in the other. If your spouse didn't hear what you intended him to hear then don't get mad, try again. Remember, you are different people and will interpret the same words different ways (for a wide variety of reasons - background, "filters" and more). Seek understanding together.
NUMBER 2: Listen first, respond later. Too often, we are so intent on figuring out how we will respond to what someone is saying that we only listen superficially to their ideas. This is particularly true in an argument. Observe yourself. A better way is to listen fully, then, once you understand the subtleties of your spouse's point, you'll be better able to respond fully and constructively. If you have trouble remembering, consider even taking notes.
NUMBER 3: Think about body language that indicates you are both paying attention, and open. If your spouse is looking at his computer when you are talking with him, chances are good his attention is fractured and he won't hear all you have to say. Ask politely for him to turn around and look you in the eye. And, if you are furious, your body will show it and your spouse will become defensive even before you open your mouth. Consider going into another room to "cool down" before tackling a difficult subject. As a related topic, don't yell something from one room and expect it to be heard. If it's important, walk to where your partner is, say what you have to say, and make sure her body language - and confirming words - indicate he heard you.
NUMBER 4: Behave as you ask others to behave towards you. If you wish to be spoken respectfully to, then it follows you need to show respect to your partner. This doesn't mean becoming wishy-washy or giving up on getting your needs met. It simply means that it's hypocritical to expect respect from someone else if you won't walk the walk yourself. There will be times when your partner's anger is out of control, or sarcasm reigns supreme. Though you might feel better temporarily if you yell back, in the long run the situation is worse if you do. Instead of hurling invectives or insulting your partner, say something like "this is really making me mad and I can tell I'm about to lose my temper and say something I'll regret, so I'm going to leave the room for a couple of minutes to calm down, then we can talk about this some more." Think of it as an adult form of time out - one you give yourself before you lose control.
NUMBER 5: Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and focus on the positive. It is common that even after a partner with problem ADHD symptoms starts to improve things, or a non-ADHD partner with anger issues starts to control her anger, the very first slip takes you both back to "see - this is just another example of how my partner can't do things right." Change, though, is a process, not an overnight wonder. So even if your partner makes a "mis-step," give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Think "overall we're making progress" rather than "this proves he'll never get it right." Your shift in attitude will work wonders in helping underscore to your spouse exactly why he/she is making all this effort in the first place. (Note - it's okay to express your disappointment, just stay positive - "well, that didn't work so well, but overall I think we're doing much better" is a more supportive response than "you never do anything right!"
Do these sound simple? Perhaps. But I'm guessing that if you are often arguing, you aren't doing at least some of them. And please, as always, remember that being polite IS NOT the same thing as hiding your feelings inside. You both need to know your needs are being met if you are to thrive. The question isn't whether or not you will express yourself - it is only what's the most productive way to do so.