DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We have two wonderful small children and a very busy life. Our problem comes from the way we argue (or the lack of argument, really). He says that I bottle up all of the everyday slights and problems and then explode with complaints that are weeks old and no longer actionable. I admit that he is right, so I try to bring up issues as they occur and not let everything bottle up.
I am very verbal when we do argue, because I have been preparing my thoughts in my head for some time. He, on the other hand, seems to always be silent when confronted with these thoughts. He seems to need some time to process before offering a response.
My question is: would it be awkward to write him a letter with my thoughts, give it to him, allow him time to process, and then have a discussion? I want to have more productive arguments and this is the only thing I can think of!
— Want to Argue Well
Dear Want to Argue: You are insightful to realize that you and your husband have different communication styles, and that there is nothing “wrong” with the way he processes information and responds.
I think that some people are genuinely afraid to argue, because they equate arguing with “fighting,” and this makes them feel insecure about the relationship. So the first thing you both need to do is to acknowledge and assure one another that your relationship is solid and that it will survive everyday disagreements. It is also important that your children witness your ability to work through problems, and work things out.
I do think it’s a little awkward to write out a list of grievances in the form of a letter, but the person you should ask about this is your husband. He might prefer this to what he perceives as a personal confrontation of stored-up problems.
Another way to handle this might be to have regular “meetings,” where you two sit down on a schedule and review what is going well, and also both bring up tougher topics. If you have scheduled meetings, you might be able to discuss these challenges during times when you’re in a good mood, and not feeling heated.
A book for you to read together is “The Heart of the Fight: A Couple’s Guide to 15 Common Fights, What they Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Together,” by Judith Wright and Bob Wright (2016, New Harbinger Publications).