Successful Fighting – A Guide for Couples
If you think you’re going to get through life without any conflict, the chances are; you’re sadly mistaken. According to a recent survey conducted by a UK-based study, couples argue a whopping 2,455 times a year on average (Source). If that sounds like far too much, don’t worry, disagreements are a part of life.
Sometimes, the odd argument can even be constructive for your relationship resulting in growth and greater understanding. There are plenty of resources out there that suggest that learning how to disagree effectively is crucial for the health of your relationship. Instead of running away the next time you feel things get heated, learn how to express yourself, and stand your ground without being deliberately hurtful or disrespectful towards your partner.
So, how do you fight “successfully” with your partner? Read on because we got really real in this article. Brace yourselves:
First things, first. Ditch that Ego!
We human beings are wired to crave social unity, (we’ve got years of evolution and our ancestors to thank for that.) When that unity becomes threatened, we have one of two responses, “Flight or Fight.” Flight suggests we have emotions of guilt, and therefore, we get a strong desire to flee the situation immediately (even if we haven’t actually done anything wrong). On the flip side, when we are in fight mode, we perceive the other person to be guilty, either through their attack on us or the “wrong” they have done us.
It can be extremely tempting to jump to the defense or attack rather than just listen with objectivity when we believe someone is behaving irrationally to us. When you feel tension brewing, you’ll likely get a pang of negative emotion with an urge for fight or flight, this is your ego kicking in. Developing sharp emotional intelligence will help you control this natural instinct.
In the words of Ryan Holiday’s The Ego is The Enemy, when we remove our egos from the equation, we are left with what is really us. What replaces ego is rock-hard humility, compassion, and earned confidence. Real confidence that knows that it can steer a seemly negative situation into a positive one, especially when loved ones are involved.
Become the Master of Your Emotions
Any arguments with your significant other can cause emotional distress and put you both on the defense. Things can quickly escalate, and what could have been a quick blip turns into days of silent treatment. It’s important to maintain emotional control because it stops unnecessary drama and relationship breakdowns.
Now you might well be thinking, that’s all well and good- but my boyfriend/ girlfriend is screaming at me! How dare they! Below we’ve outlined some points to help you master your emotions and keep things positive:
- It’s better to discuss minor annoyances as and when they happen to stop pent-up emotions from magnifying. It’s much easier to address small problems because they’re less likely to tip you over the edge, meaning you have a higher chance of resolving the issue straight away.
- Raising your voice will heighten emotions. When you raise your voice, it is very tempting for your partner to copy you. Once negative momentum starts, it is tough to stop. If your partner shouts at you, resist the urge to mirror them and distance yourself from the behavior.
- If things start to take a turn for the worst, take a moment to calm down. You can pick up your conversation from where you left it later when you are both in a better position to talk things through.
- Remember, everyone has something they are dealing with. Whether it is problems from the past, destructive thinking patterns, fear, whatever it is- just keep in mind that most people are doing the best they can with the information they have.
- Seeking to understand the other person’s perspective (which we will cover more later on in this article) is the aim of the game. Instead of thinking on the defense, “Why is this person picking on me,” say to yourself, “I wonder what this person is going through to make them behave in this way.” A simple shift in thinking will help calm your emotions. This leads us nicely into our next point:
Thou Shall Listen and Wait their Turn to Make a Point
Any argument with your romantic partner should help strengthen you as a couple. Your intention should be to resolve any underlying issues you might have and not just vent or hurl abuse without purpose. Venting without positive intentions usually makes the situation worse. For the circumstances to resolve constructively, both parties need to feel as though their points of view have been understood.
Unfortunately, humans often jump to conclusions, and we automatically assume we are usually right, and our partners are in the wrong. Hence taking time to listen to their side of the story feels like a fruitless pursuit. Resist these ways of thinking as this will likely lead us up a dangerous road. Giving your partner the space to express themselves will ease the stress and will improve the chances of you two making up much faster.
Even if Your Partner is Unreasonable, Show Respect
What we don’t have we want, and what we have we don’t want. It’s very human of us to get complacent with our partners, who may mean that we occasionally treat them with contempt and assume it’s up to them to let things go. This is, even more, the case when we are emotional, and nobody is in the right frame of mind for effective communication. Avoid raising your voice, name-calling, and showing other behaviors you don’t want to receive, especially from a loved one.
Showing that you respect and love the person even when they are unpleasant to be around in your current circumstances, demonstrates to them that you care, you appreciate their point of view and that you desire to understand them. Showing a willingness to understand will dissipate tension much faster and get you both on track.
Conflict with Your SO Shouldn’t Be Avoided
If there’s a hole in your boat – patch it as soon as you see it. Delaying the fix will cause your boat to sink faster and faster until there is no saving it. Relationships are similar. You might think that by avoiding conflict, or if you and your partner never argue, then the relationship is more stable. This, sadly, isn’t entirely the case. Often, when we are dismissive about the things that upset us, those feelings fester until one day we erupt in a fury.
Negative emotions compound over time and become more toxic. Tensions will snowball over time, and this will put your relationship at risk. Facing relationship disgruntlement early on before it gets toxic is much more effective (and for that matter, far less painful) than allowing it to erode a relationship over a longer period.
The Past Should Remain as Such
Stop reminding people of their failings – most people are doing their best to evolve into a better version of themselves! Bringing up past mistakes during an argument is a sure-fire way to mess with your partner’s self-esteem and cause resentment.
As if the issue at hand isn’t problematic enough, you bring up the past to equip yourself with a list of where they’ve messed up in the past. Simply NOT constructive behavior at all. A more helpful way of counteracting an attack would be to say, “I know you’ve been working on [Insert Variable], but I still feel as though [Insert Variable].
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Keep the Focus on the Current Issue
This leads nicely to the point above, attack one issue at a time and, if you want to resolve the problem successfully, avoid using past instances to punctuate your argument. If you consistently refer to the past or use other unrelated issues against your significant other, the chances are that things will never get better. Instead, your main points will drown in irrelevant and unconstructive propaganda resulting in – you guessed it – more things to fight about!
Generalizing Will Make Things Worse
You’ve probably heard this before but avoid using words like “always” or “never.”
Why? Because these words infer an attack on the other person’s character which will mess with their self-esteem. Also because “always” and “never” are incredibly general and unhelpful words, and they include many other unrelated topics.
As mentioned above, avoid waiting to confront your partner until things escalate; at all times, try to discuss problems calmly before they can’t be ignored. It’s super helpful to plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to tell it before there’s a shouting match (we have plenty of scripts for this on this website, you know!) That way you are less likely to become too emotional and lash out at your partner.
The Goal is to Understand Your Partner
Even if your partner makes a mistake of epic proportions, they’re still looking to you to understand their point of view. Sometimes mistakes are a necessary component of our growth and cannot be avoided (within reason). If they don’t believe you are seeking to understand them, you might win the argument, but as a result, your relationship will dissolve.
Stay calm and listen to your SO’s side of things, and show your partner that at the very least you are trying to understand. Why did they make this mistake? What are the underlying issues? Once you know the position your significant other is coming from, you’ll begin to understand that they didn’t do the things they did to hurt you; instead, they did the things they did because they were hurting.
Leave Your Judgment at the Door
Judgment is so last decade- blame your ego! Guess what – you hate it when people are too quick to judge you, so offer your partner the benefit of the doubt (unless you plan to end the relationship anyway). It might be challenging to stay away from finding fault and blaming your partner, especially when the root of the problem is actually them.
However, excessively reprimanding your partner will produce additional strains on your fragile relationship and prolong the argument. We repeat, at ALL times, focus on your current problem and how you plan to resolve it.
Your Partner Cannot Read Your Mind
Sadly, no one can read your mind, not even those closest to you. Just like your SO desires understanding and connection, you need to be able to communicate your own needs and feelings. Unless a mutual exchange is made, the relationship won’t feel fulfilling, and there always be something at the back of your mind telling you something is missing.
Articulating your needs and emotions helps your partner understand you better and leads to a deeper connection. Be mindful of how you express your feelings and how others may perceive them. Dr. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist and a book author, warns against using phrases such as “You make me feel,” which can come across as an accusation, and instead oft for “I feel.”
Speaking of which, blaming your significant other is not the right thing to do. Not only does blaming promote poor self-esteem and make the disagreement worse, but it also wreaks havoc on your intimacy as a couple. No matter how much your partner loves you, it’s hard to feel close to someone who is constantly accusing or finding fault with you.
Don’t Mention the ‘D’ word
Once you’ve planted a seed in someone’s head, you can apologize, but you cannot take it back. Threatening divorce or breakup during arguments will almost certainly hurt your relationship. If you have no intention of breaking up or getting a divorce, for your own sake- DO NOT mention it.
Once you’ve threatened divorce or breaking up, you’ll be forever trying to fix your partner’s insecurity because it is the ultimate abandonment. Even if mentioned in the heat of the moment, you have to be prepared for the repercussions and the fact that your significant other might have taken it seriously.
Don’t Leave the Issue Unresolved.
Leaving an issue unresolved much is like (as mentioned earlier) leaving a hole in a boat. Sure, everything looks fine but upon closer inspection, your ship is sinking. Unresolved feelings rarely disappear without acknowledgment and healing and this may escalate to a bigger problem that will not go away by itself. If you’re looking for advice on how to heal unresolved feelings, you might like this article from Our Everyday Life.
Score Keeping is For Goalies
Keeping a score can be highly toxic to your relationship. Competition between partners is extremely toxic and detrimental to the success of a relationship. For your own sake, forget who messed up, how many times, and what the consequences were. Similarly, avoid making your partner feel bad even when they are in the wrong, focus on problem-solving, growth, and intimacy.
Children Are NOT a Form of Leverage – Avoid Fighting Infront of Them
Although your life is far from perfect, at least you have some control over it. If there are victims in this war between you and your partner, that would be your kids. The well-being and happiness of your kids should be enough motivation to put your differences aside and co-exist peacefully.
One of the most damaging things you can do to a young child is to fight in front of them. Children feel like they have little control over their living environment, and when their parents aren’t getting on, they are quickly overwhelmed. Resist the urge to use the children as a form of leverage when you have a disagreement with your partner. Making threats or complaining and badmouthing each other to the children will cause your children emotional harm.
In addition, children have a tendency to take responsibility for their parents’ disagreements, which can lead to unfair and incredibly unhealthy self-blaming cycles. Children who often see their parents fighting may have difficulties adjusting in different social circles and have trouble connecting with their peers, according to this study.
Lastly, don’t bring other people into your disagreements. This involves anything from gossiping with your work friends, family members, or close friends. It’s one thing getting help from someone if you have legitimate concerns or fear for your safety (violence should never be tolerated) but it’s another badmouthing your partner for the sake of venting or trying to turn people against them.
Keep Your Language Positive
During an argument, yelling, name-calling, and demeaning language are like adding petrol to the fire. Keep your language positive and express your concerns in a calm and respectful manner. When you lower the tone it’s very tempting for the other person to reciprocate.
Once the issue gets resolved, there’s the memory of the pair of you behaving badly and hurling insults that are likely to stay in the back of your mind. At the risk of repeating ourselves, once something has been said, it cannot be taken back.
Healthy relationships require balance and compromise. Of course, you shouldn’t violate your boundaries or your dealbreakers, but finding a happy medium between the pair of you is the goal. Keep an open mind and be responsive to the needs of your partner, and be sure to communicate your own. In life balance is key and in most situations, there is a solution that will satisfy you both.
Being Dismissive Won’t Solve Anything
Although not as offensive as yelling and name-calling, withdrawing and not willing to discuss things can be just as damaging. The silent treatment is a form of manipulation and should be seen as such. Ignoring someone via silent treatment or becoming emotionally dismissive can be extremely hurtful with lasting psychological effects. It’s okay to withdraw if you are overwhelmed with emotions or are unsure whether you can control yourself/ behave rationally. If this is the case, simply ask for some time out so that you can come back and discuss when you are both in a better position to do so.
Circles Are Pointless
Do you see what we did there? Circular arguments are “always” and “never” types of arguments that stay unresolved because one of the two partners believes that that’s who they are. Unless your partner has a deep desire to change (stemming from their own wishes), raising your issues with them over and over again is a huge waste of time. So do you just put up with your partner’s bad behavior? The decision is yours and it’s completely healthy to express what’s bothering you, as long as you keep it concise and positive. The rest is in your partner’s hands.
Avoid Fighting When Low on Energy
It’s called Hangry for a reason. A lack of sleep and tiredness can affect our self-control; having disagreements when tired may cause us to be spiteful of act out of character. The same goes for fighting when hungry — you will feel far angrier with your partner when you are low on energy according to this study. Violence and threatening behavior should not, by any means, be tolerated or excused.
Planning to have a discussion might seem extreme, but having a plan is the key to success, even when it comes to negotiating with your significant other. If you sense that there is tension, make a mental note of what you want to say and how you are going to say it. This will help you avoid saying hurtful things and ensures that you get your points across effectively.
Prioritize Happiness Instead of Being Right
Very often, people get caught up in their problems and forget the positives in their relationship for the sake of winning an argument or being right. The real goal is to find a successful resolution and become even closer than before.
Finding someone to blame is not the key to successful fighting, and if you extend that approach to your whole life, don’t be surprised if things don’t work out how you would have liked. If you need to lighten the mood, humor is a great way to break the tension and helps you both to stop taking things so seriously.
If You Want to Be Proactive, Seek Professional Help
You don’t have to wait until breaking point to seek professional help. Working with a licensed therapist can help you see your issues from all angles, which will help you see solutions and release your negative emotions without risking your relationship.
Also, even if your partner is to blame, you still can benefit from having an impartial ear to listen to your problems. The best thing is counseling is not a condition that your partner has to participate in unless they want to, which means you can go solo if you would prefer.
We won’t go too deep into psychotherapy treatments within this article. Still, in a nutshell, CBT is a science-based approach that teaches you to change your thought processes to alter your feelings and behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is perfect for dealing with relationship issues (and countless other issues as well!).
We’ve got an excellent article that covers CBT and online relationship counseling in more detail, which you can access by clicking here. To conclude, according to the CBT theory, our emotions are caused by our thoughts. Hence, if we address our thoughts, we can improve all other areas, including feelings, behavior, communication, and relationships.
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
Relevant Books We Recommend...
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They say falling in love is easy. Staying in love—that’s the real challenge. In the bestseller The 5 Love Languages, author Dr. Gary Chapman discusses his proven approach to showing and receiving love which will help you experience deeper and more fulfilling levels of intimacy with your partner or spouse. We found this book especially useful because it highlights the differences and perspectives of other people and how this can affect how we each give and receive love. What one person does to express love, isn't necessarily the way the other person will receive it. The 5 Love Languages has been #1 New York Times Bestseller for over 8 years running. Get your copy of The 5 Love Languages by CLICKING HERE.
Psychopath Free (Expanded Edition): Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships is the first guide for survivors written by a survivor, offering hope for healing and thriving after psychopathic abuse. Author Jackson MacKenzie teaches you how to get control of the inner chaos, kick the self self-doubt, and eliminate victimization from your life. Psychopath Free shows you how to recover from insidious behavior; you'll learn how to be free from master manipulators and destructive people for once and for all. Get your copy of Psychopath Free by CLICKING HERE.
Crucial Conversations gives you the tools you need to step up to life's most difficult and important conversations, say what's on your mind, and achieve the positive resolutions you want. The framework provided in this book is extremely useful, and the reader is given options on how to improve their crucial conversations. This new edition gives the reader the tools to; prepare for high-stakes situations; make the situation safe enough to discuss anything; transform strong emotions into powerful dialogue and best of all be persuasive, not abrasive. CLICK HERE to get your copy of Crucial Conversations.
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