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How To Fight Fair in a Relationship and Grow Closer

How To Fight Fair in a Relationship and Grow Closer

by Alexis Anttila – MA, LMFT, Sabrina Walters – LPC, LMFT, Constance Suzanne Clancy – Ed.D.

How To Fight Fair in a Relationship and Grow Closer

“A bad fight is anything which does not help to move the relationship and the people involved forward. If one dominates the other, it will eventually be at the expense of the relationship. Everything depends on the intention. If the intention is to hurt, belittle, ignore, reject or win then good will struggle to come from that. 

If the intention is to wrestle with some boundaries and deal with unresolved issues then that is positive and important. Love for the other person and respect for their rights, as well as our own rights, will set a steady course for any argument. Of most value is a sincere desire to make the relationship work which, after all, is often why we fight. We want the relationship to honestly work.”

~ Donna Goddard

Crismarie Campbell Conflict Quote
Alexis Anttila

One of the great myths about relationships is that conflict is bad; conflict is not bad, but how we go about it definitely can be. 

Conflict can be a healthy tool for resolving issues in your relationship, but there are some right – and wrong – ways to do it.

1. It may sound cliché, but it is helpful to start phrases with “I feel.” 

If you find yourself starting with “You,” you are more likely to find yourself fighting with a partner that feels blamed and/or defensive. For example, “I feel like we don’t get to spend enough quality time together,” will be much better received than, “You don’t make our relationship a priority.”

2. Be specific

The more specific you can be, the more likely you will find a workable solution.

3. Timing matters

Ideally, you would not fight if either of you is tired (e.g. late at night), hungry, or distracted. Make sure you are coming to your partner with as many of your resources as possible (i.e. at least somewhat rested, nourished, and focused). This will also increase your ability to self-regulate if you become upset.

4. Be mindful of how long you have been engaged in this conflict. 

I encourage the couples I work with to limit conflict to no more than 15 minutes. You may want to check in with your partner at the 15 minute mark as to whether either of you needs a break to do some self-regulating (e.g. deep breathing, a hot shower, etc.). 

Another good indicator that you need a break is if you feel like you are saying the same thing over and over (some couples say they feel ‘stuck’ or that they are ‘spinning in circles’). Be sure to set a time to come back together to see if you are ready to continue to talk; give your body at least 20 minutes to calm down.

5. Be kind

I have seen couples be so mean to each other. It is true that our partner can hurt us more deeply than anyone else, but that does not give you the right to be mean. Treat this person with respect and with as much kindness as you would treat anyone else (e.g. your boss, grandma, etc.).

6. Lastly, if you feel like you are stuck or find yourself becoming resentful, get help. 

Some couples wait far too long before seeking help. A few sessions can be effective in helping a couple learn how to resolve conflict early on; it is much harder when pain and resentment has built up over years.

Alexis Anttila, MA, LMFT – www.onegreatlifecounseling.com

Constance Clancy

Relationships can be challenging to say the least. It is inevitable that arguments will occur from time to time. This is natural, and yet is it also an opportunity to become closer as a couple.

The key is being able to fight fair and come to a peaceful resolution where each partner gains perspective and can honor and respect her/his significant other. 

Remember it’s okay to agree to disagree. When an issue arises that a couple argues over, it’s important that you both sit down together, look into the other’s eyes and truly listen. Do not interrupt.

When one partner has spoken about the issues and concerns he/she has, then the other partner should repeat back what he/she heard to clarify what was said. 

Then the couple should acknowledge which partner this issue more important to and agree to compromise and come to a resolution. Remind each other of your purpose as a couple; to face your challenges grow together.

If one person wants to resolve the issue right away and the other needs time out, a common occurrence, then agree to some time out.

Then agree to come back to discuss the issue and make an attempt to resolve it before you go to bed. 

It’s important to have some resolution without going to bed angry. If you cannot come to an agreement, then set a time to continue your discussion so some resolution can take place. 

Communication truly is vital and with open honest communication, you have a head start to improving your couple ship.

Constance Clancy, Ed.D. – www.drconstanceclancy.com

Sabrina Walters

Is fighting fair really possible?

Some of us feel that we just aren’t clever or quick enough for a truly fair fight.

  • What if we didn’t need to fight at all? 
  • What if we could just be heard and hear the heart of the one we love the most?
  • Shifting one’s thinking takes time and practice, and yet if we were to view our opponent as someone really needing to be heard, how would that change the rules of engagement?

I have found that I’m actually much more likely to have a positive outcome in a conflict if I take off my fighting gloves.

This has worked so well for me that I’d like to suggest a few steps that will help you overcome the fear of conflict in your own life as well.

The first rule of engagement is to slow down long enough to realize you are entering a conflict in the first place.

Often we’re so wrapped up in our own thought process that we don’t realize until things have already escalated that we’ve stepped into a battle zone.

Whether you’ve unintentionally said or done something to offend your partner, or you’ve slipped into the famous fight you’ve carried on for years (we all have them), or you’re just in a feisty mood, it’s time to Stop in the Name of Love!

Ask yourself if you want to try something new.

By the time you’ve thrown out the first barbed comment, your fight or flight pattern has already been triggered. Your body’s autonomic nervous system has taken over, making it unlikely that you’ll be able to think clearly or speak lovingly.

You can get to know your own tendencies and those of your spouse, however, in order to prevent these conflict patterns from running the show.

Couples in relationship tend to be either “fighters” or “flighters.” 

When both partners are fighters, things can heat up suddenly, turning seriously volatile or even abusive.

When both are flighters, a couple can get stuck in a cold war leading to dissatisfaction and resentment, with nothing ever getting resolved.

Most couples are a combination of both, creating a frustrating situation where the flighter feels like the battle-weary victim and the fighter never feels his partner is truly engaged.

And switching gears or trying to become something different from how we have been habituated, only shifts us into the negative side of the new mode.

No matter where you see yourself and your loved one on the fight or flight spectrum, it’s never too late to improve your reaction to conflict.

  • We can train ourselves to simply stop, disengage and politely exit the situation, with an agreement to come back to our lover in a set amount of time, after heads have cooled and hearts have melted.
  • During the time-out, really check-in with your body. Do some deep breathing.
  • Rest, read or get some physical exercise. Do what it takes to settle your body and mind, to lovingly reconnect your head and your heart.
  • When you’re calm and you’ve had a chance to think over what is bothering you, that’s the time to reconnect with your loved one.
  • When you come back together, try this new strategy: ask him to share his heart with you. Reassure her that it’s a safe time and place to do so.
  • After you have listened to her whole heart, ask if she feels completely heard and if you can have a turn sharing your heart as well.
  • Tell him that you promise to respect his ideas and opinions, without judgment. Then begin asking questions that gently draw him out.

You might lead your beloved with these questions:  

  • What are the things you see in this situation that concern you?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • What do you feel when…?
  • What do you want from me in order to solve this problem?
  • What do you need?
  • What are you willing to do to solve this issue?
  • What can I do to support you in this?

After hearing an answer, it is essential to summarize what you have heard. 

Unless we give the speaker feedback, we will never know if we truly understand the issue at hand.

Give him the opportunity to tell you more about the issue until you are both absolutely sure you understand where he is coming from.

Start with questions like, “So what I hear you saying is … Is that correct? Did I get it all? Is there anything you want to add?”

Let her fill in the missing pieces and then summarize again until she truly feels heard in her heart of hearts.

Tone of voice should be as nonjudgmental and open as possible, even if you adamantly disagree with what your beloved is saying. 

Watch your own body signals again.

If you’re feeling your blood beginning to boil again, ask for another time-out. Say something like “I want to be the best listener I can be, so I need a little break to get back to that loving place.”

Remember, that it will soon be your turn to go through this process, so help your partner to feel as safe and secure as you want to feel.

One way to be a great listener is to take on the presence of love, wisdom and compassion.

By asking yourself to embody any one of these attributes, you signal the brain to stop seeking your own needs and look instead for opportunities to build bridges with the other.

Separate each characteristic – love, wisdom, compassion – now. 

Ask yourself what it would look like to be the presence of love, to be the epitome of wisdom, to exude the characteristic of compassion.

Ask yourself who in your life embodies them and what other qualities do they possess? What does it feel like to be in their presence? How could you model yourself after them?

Every time we enter into a fight with our loved one, it leaves an impression on our souls.

When we learn to shift out of fighting mode and into listening and being heard mode, we safeguard our relationship and prevent it from cycling into a constant fight to be right.

  • Ask yourself whether you’d rather be right or you’d rather be reconciled.
  • Ask yourself how badly you want to win the argument.
  • Is it a matter of pride that your loved one ends up on your side of this issue?
  • Is the battle worth squandering your mutual love?
  • Is this fight really worth the pain and sorrow you will endure and inflict?
  • Is being right worth the wounds, sometimes irreparable, that you may inflict on your loved one and yourself?”

The next time you’re tempted to enter the ring for another round, I challenge you, instead, to take on the presence of the best, most loving and compassionate person you know.

Give yourself the time and space to emulate that person’s love, wisdom and compassion, rather than dusting off your best fighting words.

You will both win, I promise!

Sabrina Walters, LPC, LMFT – www.corevaluescounseling.com

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You may not, except with express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

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