Orson Scott Card (the one writer I may be accused of having a minor obsession with--although I think I'm developing one with Aleksander Solzhenitsyn) writes a weekly column for Mormon Times (mormontimes.com, part of Deseret News), and its usually pretty good. The last few weeks, he's been writing columns about different aspects of marriage and/or choosing a spouse. This is one of his suggestions about dealing with disagreements in marriage, and I absolutely loved it, because it applies so well to every relationship that matters in our lives, not just to marriage. Everywhere he has written "spouse", you could substitute in "mother", "brother", "good friend", "uncle" or "daughter" and it would apply just as well.
Being able to have healthy disagreements and crucial conversations is so vital to any good relationship. I have at times responded poorly by giving in to my emotions, and I have been yelled or snapped at on several different occasions by several different people for not responding when I have held my tongue and tried to smooth things or at least not make them worse. In the long run, I've found that the control is always the better option, even if it can sometimes frustrate others or myself momentarily.
"4. If the other person shows emotion, you cannot.
The more emotional your spouse is, the calmer you need to be, especially if your spouse's emotions are negative — and directed at you.
Anger answered with anger only increases, until terrible things are said and both spouses start to wonder how they ever ended up married to an enemy.
But anger answered with calmness — infuriating as it might sometimes be, for a moment — is like a wave crashing against stone. Be the stone. Bear all that is said, and say inside your heart — or with your lips — "I love you so much that I can hear this without forgetting how important you are to me."
Your primary objective, when anger is present, is to say nothing that will continue to hurt the other person after this particular argument is over.
Section 121, verses 41-44, offers a complete guide to decision-making in a marriage: Lead by persuasion. Be patient by allowing your spouse to disagree with you for a long time without having to force a resolution. Find the gentlest way to say hard things. Be meek enough to hear hard things without anger or resistance, and then consider them carefully.
Do not pretend to love, really love, which means putting your spouse's happiness ahead of getting your own way — way ahead.
Be kind: look for ways you can serve your spouse's needs and desires.
Don't offer arguments just because they come into your mind — take the time to make sure you're actually right before declaring the other person wrong. When you advance a line of thought, make sure it consists of "pure knowledge" rather than your visceral opinions.
Never be hypocritical by pretending to be dispassionate or rational when in fact you're just trying to get your way. Nor is there room in a marital disagreement for tricks, traps, half-truths, or deliberate misreadings of your beloved's statements, just so you can "win."
Sometimes in a marriage you do have to say things the other person doesn't want to hear. But the "sharpness" mentioned by the Lord in his words to Joseph Smith refers to clarity, not anger. "I think you have made a mistake in this precise way," you may need to say.
But you do this when the Spirit of God suggests it to you — which means never in anger or vengeance or to counter a sharp, clear reproof that has been offered to you. "Oh, you think I was wrong to do this? Well what about when you did that!" That's how children and politicians argue. There's no room for that in marriage.
And the moment you have offered that clear reproof, you show greater tenderness, affection, caring, kindness, gentleness, and service than ever, so your spouse can see visible evidence that it was love, not anger or contempt, that offered that reproof.
Good marriages have disagreements, and they don't have to be hidden away or denied. You don't have to be a doormat by giving in on issues that matter to you — as long as you don't try to compel your spouse to give in, either.
Before you speak a word of disagreement with your spouse, especially if you feel angry, you should reach out your hand and say, with your lips and in your heart, "Your happiness and our marriage are both more important to me than anything we ever disagree about."