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Try as we might to envisage a fairytale version of our romantic partnership, untroubled by disagreements and raised voices, the reality is invariably different.
Although many of us are uncomfortable with conflict, it is an inevitable consequence of two people trying to entwine two previously independent lives.
And, even when you get the hang of coupledom, it’s only human nature to disagree.
When negotiating these stormy waters, we all ‘fight’ in different ways.
Which of these sounds like you? Do you:
– Go in for a low blow and regret it later?
– Feel out of control when emotions run high?
– Become silent and withdrawn as your anger grows?
– Take any criticism or disagreement as a personal attack?
– Use complaints and grievances from the distant past as ammunition?
– Do whatever it takes to avoid conflict?
Or maybe you use a number of these tactics, depending on the issue at hand.
But the truth is, whether the problem is big or small, none are particularly helpful or constructive as methods of conflict resolution.
Learning ways to fight fairly will give you the tools to manage strife and the feelings that come with it effectively and with positive benefits.
Yes, there can be a positive takeaway from a well-managed disagreement because conflict can actually strengthen relationships and improve your mutual understanding.
So it’s not all bad.
Here are 10 suggestions to help you on your way to fairer fighting in your relationship:
1. Let them speak, and see their perspective.
When you’re angry or irritated about something, it’s easy to find yourself being the one who’s doing all the talking, bombarding your partner with your thoughts and leaving no room to hear their views.
Clearly, that’s not a fair fight.
You may not agree with what they’re saying, but should nevertheless let them speak without interruption.
If you’re unsure about something, ask them to clarify.
Allowing your partner to air their point of view demonstrates respect.
Moreover, the better you understand, the easier it will be for you to empathize.
And if you are able to take your partner’s perspective, you are less likely to become angry.
Sometimes a changed perspective can produce a revelation that can quickly resolve the situation.
You just have to take off your blinders and appreciate an alternative way of looking at the same issue.
2. Use your ears and really listen.
There are few things more frustrating than believing that your partner is not paying attention to what you’re saying.
If you have a tendency to interrupt or to make great leaps of assumption about what your partner is thinking, you aren’t giving them a chance to express their actual feelings.
Using the technique of ‘active listening’ is a great way to show your partner they have your full attention.
One of the key strategies is to rephrase what your partner is saying to show your understanding.
If there’s a mismatch between what is being said and your interpretation, then that misunderstanding can be cleared up straight away rather than lingering and fanning the flames of the disagreement.
Another useful strategy for checking that you have correctly understood your partner’s reactions is to ‘perception check.’
A simple statement such as “You seem annoyed by what I just said – am I right?” is all that’s needed to show you are paying attention and really care about their feelings.
3. Don’t play the blame game.
When feelings are running high, it’s all too easy to resort to blaming the other person.
Yet blame is a sure fire way to put your partner on the defensive, leading to an escalation in the conflict or complete shut down on further discussion.
Try to avoid accusatory statements like: “You ‘always’ spend so much time on your phone” or “You ‘never’ wash the dishes.”
Shift the finger of blame away from your partner by using the word ‘I’ instead, putting the focus on how you feel rather than what they did or didn’t do.
“I feel unappreciated when you seem to find your phone more interesting than me,” or “I get tired of being the one who puts the trash out.”
4. Be prepared to meet halfway.
A fight can’t be fair if you (or your partner) always get your own way.
Digging your heels in and insisting that it’s my way or the highway is neither fair nor sustainable.
Neither is issuing ultimatums, which can easily backfire.
The delicate art of compromise is an essential element of a healthy relationship, but it does need to be a two-way street to be fair.
If you are both willing to compromise, then conflicts can be easily resolved.
For example, deciding to do something your way on one occasion and their way on the next is surely the ultimate fair resolution.
5. Choose your battles.
When emotions are running high, it’s so easy to find the original issue being joined by a jumble of other gripes, some of them going way back into the mists of time and far from relevant in the now.
If you want to keep things constructive, make sure you limit the discussion to one issue.
Avoid at all costs what John Gottman, a notable researcher in the area of relationship conflicts, calls ‘kitchen-sinking.’
Remember the old saying ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ meaning that nothing has been left out?
Resist the urge to bombard your partner with multiple complaints.
By keeping to just one issue, you’re more likely to stay focused, with a better chance of actually making progress.
6. Don’t aim below the belt.
It’s important to avoid intentional hurt by attacking your partner’s character in a way that you know will cause pain.
In the heat of the moment, it’s so easy to resort to aggressive accusatory comments, name calling, or swearing.
Refrain from spouting contemptuous or sarcastic remarks that belittle or shame your partner.
Deliberately upsetting statements about failings in their personality or their weight or their habits are unacceptable.
By resorting to these low tactics, all you’ll achieve is to add fuel to the fire.
Satisfying though they may seem at the time, hurtful things can’t be unsaid and can be hugely damaging.
But it’s not only verbal aggression that must be avoided. Foot-tapping, rolling your eyes, or smirking are just as unacceptable because they indicate disrespect and antipathy.
Any kind of contemptuous behavior makes meaningful discussion impossible.
Its only effect is likely to be anger, making the chances of resolution more remote.
7. Tell it how it is.
It’s hardly surprising that conflict arises when there’s a reluctance to come out and state plainly the source of the problem.
If you show your displeasure by moping about and being grumpy and uncommunicative, the likely outcome is nothing but confusion and ultimately irritation.
Neither is using the passive-aggressive technique of masking hostility with condescension going to achieve anything.
Or perhaps your favored tactic is to avoid discussing the problem altogether by deflecting the conversation onto other topics when the thorny issue comes up.
Ultimately, none of these behaviors are constructive; neither are they fair.
Your partner can hardly fail to read the signs of your irritation, but is powerless to respond since they have no clue what the actual problem is.
Don’t expect your partner to read your mind and then be annoyed when they fail to get the message.
It’s only fair to express your feelings honestly, openly, and clearly, as that is the only way your partner will truly understand your feelings.
Plain speaking will give them a chance to change their behavior.
8. Don’t fight fire with fire.
This may sound like a no brainer if you’re trying to calm things down, but our inner toddler sometimes finds it hard to resist responding to bad behavior by throwing a hissy fit all of our own.
Needless to say, giving in to that urge will only escalate the conflict, with ever more heated arguments, belittling remarks, and increasing negativity.
Clearly, if you can zip your lip and refrain from trading insults and contemptuous remarks that you will later regret, the situation will remain calmer.
Hence, a satisfactory resolution is way more likely to be within reach.
9. Avoid clamming up.
When we feel that we’re under attack, a natural reaction can be to withdraw and use the silent treatment as a means of defense.
However, research has suggested that there is a direct link between such withdrawal and relationship difficulties.
After all, frustration and anger are the likely response to silence and detachment.
Ultimately, positive results can only be achieved by two-way communication, so it’s important to keep the channels open.
10. Take time out.
There may be times when you feel so overwhelmed by the discussion that taking time out is a wise course of action.
This will give you both the space and time to recover and reflect.
But, since the issue under discussion is clearly important, it’s essential to agree that you’ll revisit the topic as soon as you are able.
Be sure to follow up on that promise, though, or the issue is likely to remain as a stumbling block in your relationship.
Still not sure how to approach arguments in your relationship, or want some mediation? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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- Is Arguing Healthy In A Relationship? (+ How Often Do Couples Fight?)
- How To Make Up After A Fight And Stop Arguing In Your Relationship
- How To Overcome Your Fear Of Confrontation And Deal With Conflict
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry