Let’s be honest, relationships of any kind can be difficult and expressing emotions is not easy. Now add an array of life stressors and it can make sense why fighting amongst people can become explosive, full of miscommunications, filled with mis-directed emotions, and can be a difficult cycle to break. A big difference in relationships that prosper and those that stay stuck is the WAY in which they handle disagreements.
As a therapist whether I’m working with an individual, a couple, or a family, a common goal people want is to have healthier and happier relationships. Life puts a strain on relationships so it is normal that with additional stress comes an increase in arguments, disagreements, and feeling like you are not being valued nor heard in your relationship. So the question I get asked all the time is, how? How do I/we stop having this distress in relationships? I will never encourage clients to set a goal of never fighting in their relationships. I help clients reframe their exceptions that the function of fighting is to express your emotional and relationship opinions and needs. I teach clients how to “fight fair” and learn how to express themselves in a healthy way. Everyone is valid to feel how they feel, but what improves relationships is effective emotional expression, healthy boundaries, and learning how to identify your responsibility and ability to do both.
Rules for Fighting Fair
1. Ask yourself what are the real reasons you feel upset. It is never really about the dirty dishes left in the sink or the dirty clothes left on the ground. It can be about gathering evidence as to why you feel you are not valued nor being heard about what you need from your partner. So take a step back and ask yourself, what am I really upset about? Without self awareness of your true emotions, you will not know how to work towards a resolution.
2.Only discuss ONE issue at a time. It can be easy for fights to morph into other issues, especially unresolved ones from the past. This can be tough but keep each other focused on the issue at hand. Keep this boundary, it is the only way to keep control of the disagreement.
3. Take responsibility for the way you feel. Express your feelings using “I statements.” Do NOT play the blame game when discussing important issues in your relationship. Instead of saying “you make me angry because you always do…,” reframe it to say, “I feel angry when…” Pointing fingers will only put up defenses and cause a barrier for any healthy communication to happen.
4. No degrading language. Discussing sensitive topics is hard and can trigger a variety of deep emotions. This can lead to impulsive outbursts such as using words or statements that you do not truly mean but will not be able to take back once said.
5. Take turns. We often listen to respond and not to understand. Try to set a timer so each person gets their turn to express themselves. Then whoever is listening does not have to worry about getting their turn, they only need to focus on truly listening.
6. No stonewalling. It can be easy during an emotionally charged conversation to want to go into a shell and not speak. However, doing this will only make it impossible to resolve the issue.
7. No yelling. Being the loudest does not mean anything you are saying is actually being heard. If you feel yourself starting to get heated and your tone of voice begins to escalate, take 5 deeps breaths to slow your mind and body down.
8. Be prepared to take a time out if things begin to escalate. If the conversation continues to get too heated and taking deep breaths just is not working, then take a time out. BUT, set a time to continue the conversation. Too often when people take a time out they never go back and the issues will only keep coming up in the future.
Set a goal of coming to some kind of understanding or compromise. Relationships are give and take and resolving conflict is the same. This does not necessarily mean you come to the exact agreement or that it will be a perfect resolution where each person gets exactly what they wanted. But sometimes even coming to understand how the other person is feeling and validating that is a solution.
During an argument many people want to either win the argument or want to be heard. Fighting fair requires that either person in the relationship work to communicate effectively so they will not further damage each other or their relationship during difficult times. Use the above rules during your next disagreement and see how you can replace destructive ways of arguing with more constructive ones.
All my support,