Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fighting Fair: Are You Tearing Down, or Building Up Your Relationship?

It happens to the best of us, in the best relationships.  It’s inevitable, really.  There’s no way around it, so let’s just put it out there: Fighting. No two people are going to agree about everything all the time.  Most of us would certainly prefer that we sit down and have a nice, rational conversation where everybody is heard, and we come to a mutual understanding.  The timing would always be perfect, there’d be no distractions, and at the end, we’d hug it out and go on with our mutually improved lives.  Sounds great, and would eat into a significant amount of therapists’ profits!  But since we’re still in business, that doesn’t seem to be happening.  
First, let’s talk about the things that should, ideally, happen beforehand.  I know that fighting often seems spontaneous.  But after the fact, it’s often easy to see that the conflict had been brewing, or that preventable circumstances were a contributing factor.
  • Know what you want, and what you will accept.  Make sure the two are different.
  • Make sure you’re not having a misunderstanding.  Do you have all the facts about your point of view?  Does your partner?
  • NEVER fight after consuming mind altering substances.  They will cloud your judgement and may lower your inhibitions.  Even a glass of wine to calm down is unacceptable.  If your partner has had a beer or two, or six, it’s not the right time.
  • Take a cooling off break before you discuss the issue.  Get your head around the issue, what you want to say, and how you want to say it.  
  • You both must consent to the discussion.  When your wife has a migraine or your son just worked a 10-hour day after taking a final exam the night before is not fair to anyone.
  • Violence is never an acceptable solution.  Do not fight near weapons.
  • Do not involve other people, unless it’s in a professional capacity.
  • If it is with an intimate partner, don’t fight in the bedroom.  That should be a place you both can go for safety, calm, and intimacy.
During the fight:
  • ABSOLUTELY NO ABUSE OF ANY FORM.  If you feel you are losing control, get out of the situation immediately.
  • Use “I” statements.  These start with phrases like, “I feel,” “I need,” “I want,” “I saw.”  Avoid “you” statements.  If you need to start with a “you” statement, immediately follow it with an “I” statement: “You drowned my goldfish. I was really upset by that.”
  • Avoid absolutes like “always” and “never.” I know it’s easy to fall into these statements.  I am human, and do it too.  If you really feel you need to use one of these, own it: “I feel like I always have to be the one to walk fluffy the goldfish.  I know you have done it in the past, but I have to do it so often, it feels unfair.”
  • No distractions.  Turn the TV off.  Don’t answer the phone.
  • Do not hit below the belt.  It can feel really good in the moment to take your partner’s vulnerability and use it against them.  It feels awful after the fact.  Stick to the issue at hand.
  • Be honest.  If you knew your partner wasn’t telling the truth during a fight, how would that be for you?  Honesty is a risk, and it makes us vulnerable.  This is especially true when we’re taking responsibility for doing something wrong.  But lying doesn’t help the situation, and will actually make it worse.  The truth will come out, and then you’ll have to deal with the original issue, plus the fact that you lied.
  • Take responsibility for your part.  This is a tough one, but it’s so important.  Fights are almost never completely one-sided.  Even if it’s something you had no idea was a problem, let your partner know that they matter to you.  It’s okay to do the best you can with what you have.  But once you have new information, you move forward, raising the bar as to what is your best.
  • Do not be the relationship’s historian.  If you’re fighting about something that just happened, you don’t get to bring up the fact that it happened 3 years ago too.  That’s a separate issue.  Also, you can’t go back and fix anything.  Stay focused on how you want to move forward.
  • No ultimatums. No threats. No tantrums. No storming out.
  • Again, no storming out.  Taking a breather is fine, but has to be agreed upon. THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN ESCAPING IF THE FIGHT ESCALATES, AND YOU ARE UNSAFE.
  • Respect tears, and respect laughter, even if they seem inappropriate.  These are ways that our bodies process the influx of hormones that are driving our feelings and reactions.
  • Use professional help as necessary.  If you’re at such an impasse that you can’t solve the issue together, couples’ counseling may be in order.  
After the fight:
  • You will both be tired.  Your body will be processing all of the hormones it released during the conflict.  Remember our discussion about fight or flight?  Here it is in action!  You may be emotionally tired too.  You and your partner may have different needs.  That’s okay.  Figure out together what needs to happen next.
  • Forgiveness has to be unconditional.  Once the fight is over, it’s done.  You don’t get to make snide comments the next day.  You don’t get to bring up the issue in your next fight.  
  • Stick to your word.  If you agree to something, you’re responsible for following through.  If something needs to be changed, make sure your partner is as involved as possible.
  • If there are children in the home, they will be affected by the conflict.  Do not minimize or underestimate this.  You are responsible to them and for them.  They will process their feelings differently than adults.  They’re supposed to.  They’re children.  They need to know that they are safe and loved.  Remember that children are little narcissists.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s childhood!  But because of this, they will be quick to blame themselves. PLEASE remember this, and care for them.
No one is going to do these perfectly.  We’re human, and it’s who we are.  What I hope you will take from this is to always keep yourself safe, and then do what you can to keep those around you safe.  Safety is not only physical.  It is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual.  While almost no one wants conflict, it will happen.  What’s important is what you do with it.  If you can take the fight and resolve it to the point that you actually end up closer, wonderful.  It can take stress out of the relationship and bring about resolutions.  Anyone who says they never fight with their partner worries me.  I always wonder what they are sacrificing? What are they not saying? What need is not being met?  Relationships are paramount to our human experience.  Do what is necessary to cultivate yours.
Be well.

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