Fighting — the frank and honest airing of differences, without the intent of hurting your partner — is not only useful, it’s necessary for long term happiness.
Conflict is a part of the human experience, but as we all know, arguments can quickly escalate out of control, and words get hurled like so many daggers. There’s shouting, name-calling, accusations, threats to leave, retaliations. Whatever you were arguing about gets lost, and the fight becomes about the fight. Explosions like these are destructive to a relationship.
But fighting fair can strengthen a couple. Some couples believe that fighting in and of itself is a bad sign, and try to avoid it at all costs. But research shows that happy couples fight. The difference is that they know how.
Here’s an example of a conflict, first done destructively, and then constructively.
Destructive: “You never spend time with me, work always comes first with you!”
This comes across as an attack. It will serve to push your partner away, and tend to elicit a defensive response. But at the same time, you are right to bring up this topic and let your partner know about these things that really hurt you.
But it’s the way that you say it that will make all the difference.
If your partner is like 99.9% of human beings, s/he will respond to praise and positive messages. If what you really want is to pull your partner closer to you, then help them feel successful by emphasizing what they’re doing right. This will immediately open their heart and mind to listen to what you really want to say.
Constructive: So instead of, “You never spend time with me, all you care about is your job”, you can say – “I know that you work really hard to provide for us. I know you spend a lot of time at work because you want to take care of us as much as you can. But sometimes I feel lonely here. I miss you and would be so happy if we could spend more time together”.
You can see right away the difference in tone of this approach! The first example is an angry attack; the second is a respectful, and vulnerable statement. Which one do you think garners the more desired result?
More Fighting Fair Facts:
- Being right and winning an argument may be useful at work, but not at home. Sometimes a person can win a big argument and lose the relationship in the process. It’s not winning that counts, it’s making things better between the both of you.
- Take a time out. If you feel your blood boiling or see an argument spinning out of control, tell your partner you need a time out for 15 or 30 minutes or so. (That lets them know you’re coming back soon, and you’re not running out on them or the issue at hand). Then take a walk around the block or find a room in your home with a door. Take a series of deep breaths; maybe call a friend. Return when you feel even a little calmer, or figure out a better approach to the discussion.
- When the argument settles down, make it a point to reach out to repair the rift and make up and soothe your partner. This will be good for the both of you.
5 Words That Can Defuse Any Argument
Suppose you heard your partner say something that rubbed you the wrong way. Maybe it was the way they said it, or the words they used.
When the discussion you’re having is about to spiral into an argument, and you find yourself getting irritated or frustrated, stop! Take a breath (and I mean a deep, audible breath!), and do a reality check.
In other words, say your partner seems angry at you and is accusing you of something you didn’t do, and it’s hurting you or making you frustrated or mad. Stop, and let him or her know what you’re reacting to, using this simple three part format:
1. “This is what I’m hearing you say to me…”
Then tell them exactly what you’re hearing them say, like so:
2. “You believe I purposefully neglected to take out the garbage, and that I always do this. ”
Be sure to say this as neutrally as possible, without editorializing or commenting on what they’re saying.
3. “Is this what you meant?”
Using this format, numbers 1 and 3 are always the same. Number 2 is the content you’re upset about.
About half the times you do this, you’ll hear back something that will calm you down.
“I didn’t say purposefully.” Or… “I don’t know what to believe. You said you would do it.” Or… “I didn’t mean that you always do this.”
This gives you a chance to calm down, because the thing that ticked you off either wasn’t what was said or, more importantly, wasn’t what was meant. And try not to get stuck in — “But I know what you said, and I heard you say those words!” Guess what? You might be right, but it doesn’t matter! You’re giving them a chance to clarify what it is they really meant to say, and maybe change the way they’re saying it.
Remember, the goal is not to prove you’re right about which words they used; the goal is clarity and peace. So try practicing this next time! If you still find the two of you having problems, contact me and I’ll help you further.