Do you have the experience where everything you do seems to end in conflict? Are you in the middle of a conversation and suddenly your spouse is going on and on about how you used the wrong word? One of our readers wrote about it this way: "the entire conversation is ignored and the one word is focused on, whether it be to accuse me of changing facts, or blaming her for something, taking a stab at me or just flat out missing the point...there is so much anger and unhappiness ... I have stopped talking since everything I say gets disected and used against me in some way."
Back when my husband and I were fighting he used to change the direction of our conversations to argue over semantics instead of general content, too. It drove me crazy and always made me mad because it felt as if he couldn't stay focused on what was really important and didn't care about the point I was trying to make. It felt as if he just wanted to fight...and didn't care about what.
Looking back, I learned a few things about this pattern. First, just because this is happening to you now doesn't mean that the two of you will always communicate this way. We don't do it at all any more. Really, this conversational style is an artifact of your joint anger.
Second, retreating isn't the answer. Changing how you communicate and what the topic is, is. One communication technique is to try to get your partner to reiterate what they think they understand of what you said. "I would love to know that I clearly communicated what I was thinking. Can you tell me what you heard?" Conversely, you can say "let me make sure I understood what you were saying"...and repeat back to her what you think you heard. Notice that these words point to your communication skills, not your spouse's listening skills, because you want your spouse to understand that you aren't attacking her.
Third, when you get into this type of pattern it is probably a good time to set some conversational rules. Make it "not okay" for someone to attack another person personally. (No "you are always so lazy" or "you never listen to me". Use "I don't feel as if we are sharing the work load around the house evenly" or "are there ways that we can improve how we say things and listen to each other so that we communicate more clearly?") This takes some practice and you need to try to not let anger flare up at lapses. Instead, take the high road and redirect the conversation to the specific problem you are trying to solve and why it needs solving.
It's really important to respect your spouse's opinion about what is bothering her - just because you don't agree with her approach doesn't mean that it isn't either a good approach for her or legitimately a problem...and if she's having a problem, you have a problem. Your job isn't to assess whether or not her approach to an issue is right - it's to assess how your approach and her approach might be melded together for a solution that satisfies you both.
How she processes info and how you do are very different, so it can take a while to clarify things, particularly when you are fighting (which tends to make people very un-thoughtful). Always try to converse with this in mind and be open to her different way of processing and thinking, just as you would want her to be open to yours.