By ADINA LAKSER
It doesn’t matter how well matched you are. How much you love each other. Or how long you’ve been together. There will be no avoiding it. You will fight. Although we might be fed the image of the happily-ever-after couple who never disagrees, fighting can actually be a healthy and dynamic part of a relationship.
If you aren’t fighting at all, it might mean that one of you is always acquiescing, not expressing his/her needs, or avoiding conflict at all cost. I am very familiar with conflict aversion and completely understand how awful it feels to disagree or assert yourself when you know it’s not going to go over well.
However, fighting is a way to exert your own independence, make your needs known, and ensure that you have space in your relationship. And even if it never feels good, here are some tips to fighting fair.
Try To Speak Up In The Moment
At times, it might feel right to let things slide, especially if you know you’re getting annoyed because you’re tired, hungry, or stressed by other things that are going on. Sometimes it is best to let it go and move on with taking care of yourself.
However, wanting to let things slide may come from a conflict-avoidant place, and unfortunately, the resentment will only build. It’s best to bring up an issue in the moment; that way you can address it when it feels fresh and relevant and the tension won’t start to build up. Otherwise, as resentment builds becomes its own entity, which can result in overwhelming confusion about whether to first address the issue or address the resentment. Trying to figure out what to bring up first, while resentment continues to build, can lead to absolute overwhelm and communication gridlock.
Identify And Take Responsibility For Your Own Feelings
Oh, it is so satisfying to slam your partner with “You make me feel so stupid,” or “You don’t act like you love me” but although others can impact our reactions, we are ultimately responsible for our own feelings. In the midst of a fight, it is so important, albeit difficult, to sink into our own selves and identify what is happening. Although fighting is usually attributed to the feeling of anger, often there is way more going on. Anger can be a quick go-to, especially if more vulnerable feelings like fear, despair, or sadness are at the core. A fight can literally be stopped in its tracks when someone can be brave enough to say what they are feeling without blame.
Fighting Doesn’t Mean Your Relationship Is Bad
Don’t be afraid to fight. This underlying fear can sometimes derail a potentially illuminating argument. John and Julie Gottman, pioneers in couple therapy, reassure us with “Fighting itself is not a bad thing. What we saw in all couples is that there are ways that we fight that produce hurt, that injure our partners. When that happens, the difference between couples who make it and couples who break up is simple: the couples who make it “repair” the relationship after they’ve hurt each other.”
Which leads to the next point.
Reflect And Revisit A Fight That Was “Dirty”
It can be very difficult to remain calm and fair in the midst of a fight. Sometimes our feelings flare, and we say or do things that are hurtful and mean. It is a fight, after all. Making space after a fight to go over what happened, to share how it felt, and to make some “rules” for future fights is essential to building and growing from the incident.
Know What You Want
Years ago, I heard a piece on CBC radio about negotiating. The host talked about how we often focus on the tricks to negotiating well, like trying different approaches and learning about your “opponent.” However, the host explained that the strongest negotiating technique is knowing what you want.
We often fight with our partners because something comes up that we don’t want. But to further the conversation along, what do you want? I know that can feel like a big question, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be something concrete, wanting can be process oriented.
With that in mind, do you want more time before a decision is made? Do you want space for discussion? Do you want to include others in the process? Sometimes a fight can even help to figure out what it is you want. Often, we can get caught up it being right or proving our partners wrong, we forget that the ultimate purpose of fighting is to help us identify and express our needs.
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I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, or if you’d like to learn how working with me can help you to fight productively.