We’ve all been in this scenario with our partner-we get angry over something they’ve done (or not done) and we approach our partner with our anger. It’s likely we have the expectation that they will understand why we are upset, apologize and all will be right again. But how often does this scenario take place instead? Our partner reacts to our anger with their own, comes back at us with defensiveness, and suddenly a full-blown argument is taking place. Maybe it includes yelling, maybe it includes mean things said in anger—but it is likely that the result is hurt feelings and resentment. Over time, if these types of fights are occurring frequently, they can be very damaging to a relationship as the anger and resentment will only keep building!
So, how do we avoid these damaging fights? Some couples feel they should avoid fighting altogether. They may be very uncomfortable with confrontation and conflict and therefore tend to not express any unhappiness with their partner. This extreme can lend itself to damage down the road as well. If we always bottled up our emotions, they are highly likely to come out at some point in an unhealthy way. Consider a bottle that you keep stuffing things in and trying to put a cork on it. Eventually, the cork is going to pop if the bottle gets too filled!
So, knowing that avoiding all arguing is unhealthy, how do we have fights that are fair, healthy, and, very importantly, productive?
-Stay on topic! How often have you start fighting over one subject and suddenly your partner is bringing up things from years past? It is easy to get caught up in throwing things at your partner that have happened and listing every injustice you feel you have ever suffered. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to more anger and can easily escalate a fight. In addition, we tend not to resolve the current issue when we lose focus on it and begin arguing about related topics. Do your best to stay on the topic that needs to be discussed and work on reminding each other to refocus if one partner is beginning to stray to the past.
-Try to move towards compromise! As competitive beings, many of us often focus on “winning” the argument. Often, this leads to our pride getting in the way of focusing on a better outcome-resolving the fight in fair and effective way that leaves both individuals feeling that they’ve been heard and understood. There are going to be times when the outcome does need to be ‘let’s agree to disagree’ and that is okay. But, often if we stay open to compromise, the two of you will feel closer to one another during the discussion thus making a good outcome more likely.
-Avoid labeling and blaming! When our own anger is met with defensiveness, it is likely because we are explaining ourselves to our partner by assigning blame. In addition, when we use labels, you are adding to the blame by giving the impression that the person is completely at fault. For example, if you are angry that they are not helping around the house as much as you’d like, a simple statement such as “you’re so lazy” sets the argument up for disaster! The label implies that it is more than just their behavior that you don’t like, but them as a whole. This of course will bring on defensives, which almost always will escalate the argument. Instead, try to use “I” statements, describe how the person’s behavior makes you feel and make a specific request. If you approached your partner in the above scenario with the statement, “I am feeling overwhelmed and would really appreciate if you cleaned up the kitchen after dinner”, you are so much more likely to get a positive response.
It is important to remember that arguing is not only a part of every relationship, but can be healthy because it means we are expressing our true feelings to our partner and opening up the possibility for working effectively together. Learning to fight fair is a skill that many of us don’t have and a skill that takes practice. But this skill can go a long way in improving your relationship satisfaction and happiness. To learn more about how to fight fair, and other relationship skills, contact us to schedule an appointment at 908-246-3074, or GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com.