Fighting to Improve Your Relationships!

Fighting – to Improve Your Relationships!

Conflict happens in all relationships. 

Or if it doesn’t, someone may be hiding, denying, or otherwise not fully participating in a working relationship.  But conflict doesn’t have to be destructive – in fact, disagreement is exactly how we find out where our rough edges are and how we can polish them.  Talking through differences helps partners better understand each other and themselves, bringing maturity and depth to the relationship. 

When couples fight, both individuals are probably speaking and thinking from their wounded child selves, which were shaped before they had language or any understanding of what was going on.  Kids are pretty good at fighting: they say exactly what they mean and how they feel and what they want you to do about it!  But as adults, we’re not always so direct or attuned to our inner being.  Often, we have not examined those early hurts and disappointments and needs with an adult-level awareness, which can leave us floundering, unmoored from any clear sense of exactly what’s wrong and how to talk about it.  It can help to have rules for fighting fair that give us the space to explore our feelings without damaging the relationship. 

Here is a list by Aaron Alan, MA, LMFT, published in GoodTherapy, that can help keep an argument clean and on topic: 

  1. Stay on point. Know what you’re fighting about. Ask yourself and each other, “what is this argument really about?” 
  2. Stick to one subject only – keep the quarrel focused and specific. Arguments can veer off course and when that happens, the root of the conflict gets lost.
  3. Be direct – say how you feel; say what you need.
  4. Be kind – arguing is not a platform to be mean or hurtful to your partner. 
  5. Choose the time of your battles carefully (i.e., not 1 AM or while you’re in the middle of a restaurant). 
  6. Keep quarrels private.
  7. Don’t triangulate others into your conflict (i.e., don’t “rope in” other people).
  8. Don’t read your partner’s mind.
  9. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind.
  10. Don’t blame or shame. [Note: it helps to use “I-language.”]
  11. Own your own feelings – this means starting sentences with “I feel,” not “you make me feel.”
  12. Don’t talk down to each other (i.e., don’t be condescending…morally, intellectually or experientially).
  13. Don’t make sweeping over-generalizations (such as “you never” or “you always”) 
  14. Don’t be intentionally mean or cruel.
  15. Don’t hit below the belt.
  16. Don’t wear the belt too high (i.e., acting like you’re weaker or more fragile than you actually are).
  17. Don’t bring up past fights and use them as ammunition for the present one.
  18. Actively listen (rather than just waiting until there’s a chance for you to speak).
  19. Don’t threaten to leave the relationship (divorce, break-up, move out, divide accounts, etc.).  
  20. No verbal abuse (i.e., name-calling, screaming, threats, etc.).
  21. No throwing objects or breaking things.
  22. No physical violence.
  23. Respect your partner’s request to stop or “hit the pause button” – sometimes taking a break to de-escalate is a wise decision. 

Most of those “don’ts” are things we do when we feel threatened, hurt, guilty, or otherwise upset, so it helps to schedule any conflict discussion for when you’re feeling calm and rational (and yes, we all have our moments of irrationality!).  Just as with any skill or habit, clean fighting takes practice.  And a skilled, confidential partner therapist can help you develop that and many other good options. 

When you’re ready to get started, I look forward to working with you!