We’ve all heard the saying, “pick your battles.” That sounds like a good way to reduce unnecessary fights, but exactly how are we supposed to pick the right ones? When I ask audiences at my speaking events about this, many respond with comments like, just pick the ones that are worth it, or pick the ones you think you can win. But, if you follow that advice, prepare yourself for more battles, not less!
If we want to reduce the number of fights we have with our spouse, children and/or friends, then there is only one way to do it: Smarten up! How do you do that? It’s easy. Before you open your mouth to give some unwanted advice or criticism, ask yourself this single best question: Does this affect me? If your answer is no, then say nothing and don’t pick the battle.
To give this wise question a reality check, I’ll share a little story. A husband (who shall remain nameless) was heading to work one summer day when his wife thoughtfully suggested he take an umbrella because according to the weather report there was a high chance of rain. When that same husband returned home that evening with dripping wet hair, his wife watched him shake off his coat and pull off his wet shoes. She instinctively blurted out, “I told you to take an umbrella,” to which the husband naturally and expectedly replied, “I don’t mind getting a little wet.”
“A little wet?” questioned the wife. “You look like you were in a hurricane.” And so, the husband responded a little louder, “I like the rainfall on a warm day and I will never take an umbrella because they are too annoying to carry around.” The wife felt she couldn’t let such a ridiculous comment go unchallenged…and then the fight began.
In retrospect, it’s clear that this was the wrong battle to pick. But in the moment, how could this woman have known? The answer is that she could have smartened up and asked herself how this situation personally affected her. Was she sopping wet? No. Was her husband asking her to blow dry his hair or dry his clothing? No. His getting wet did not personally affect her, even though it did annoy her. Therefore picking that battle was a bad choice.
I’m sure there are many things that that your spouse does that may bother or annoy you, but how many of them truly affect you and take up your time or money? Remember that your spouse is not perfect, but you are not there to fix him or her. Rather than jumping in with unnecessary criticism to spark a fight, be smart, take a breath, and hold your tongue. This too shall pass.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America," and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. Visit her at www.fightlesslovemore.com.