Though conflict in relationships can feel uncomfortable and for some, even a bit scary, constructive fighting is actually a healthy part of every relationship. The problem is, many couples have not learned how to fight constructively, which can have the effect of turning a minor conflict into unprecedented warfare.
Here are 10 rules for those of you who need help fighting it out.
1. The past is not present. Stay on point, any past grievance is not allowed in your current argument. If past grievances should come up, make time to address them separately at another time.
2. Make an appointment. Timing is everything when it comes to fighting. It is often the case that when an argument arises, it is the most inopportune time to work through it. If this is the case, make an appointment to talk about it later, that way each partner can have peace of mind knowing the issue will be addressed and that each person will be prepared to address it.
3. Productive, not protracted. Drawn out arguments tend to be unproductive, so be time sensitive and when it feels like the argument is losing its boundaries and violating rule #1, put a pin in it and employ rule #2 to return to it another time.
4. Check your assumptions. Don’t assume you know what your partner is thinking or what he or she is going to do or say. Your assumptions may say more about you than they do about your partner, so you may want to check those out, it could help you experience a deeper understanding about what the fight is really about and what you are really needing from your partner.
5. But if you must assume… then assume your partner has good intentions. Try it. Again, you may discover something important in any resistance you have to this assumption. You may also experience that your partner is much less defensive if you assume the best of them and that the argument is much more productive.
6. Whack-A-Mole. Remember that arcade game where you use a mallet to hit toy moles as they randomly pop up? Same goes for arguments. Deal with them as they pop up (or make an appointment to deal with them later), don’t dismiss them and let resentment build, otherwise you will be playing a whole other arcade game, like, say, Mortal Kombat?
7. All for one. Remember, you and your partner are on the same team and the goal of the argument is resolution. Keep this top of mind as you engage the fight and with each contest, question, or statement you make, ask yourself, ‘Will this move us toward resolution or away from it?’
8. The clichéd ‘I-statement.’ Yup, you must use I-statements. It’s mandatory. I-statements have the ability to manage defensiveness in an argument because they reflect your perceptions and assumptions, not reality, which creates space for both partners’ experience to be seen and validated. Remember, it’s not about being right, it’s about understanding the other person’s perspective and recognizing it as valid, even if it does not align with your own.
9. Self-control. Simply put, you must practice self-control. Do not let your emotions get the best of you, no fight can be resolved when your emotional charge highjacks rational thinking.
10. Get help. If you and your partner continue to have the same fight repeatedly and it never feels resolved, or if the fight feels too big to work through on your own, get help. Many fights need a referee, and that’s ok, it’s normal. Usually when this happens its because there is something else being fought about, only both partners can’t see it because they are either too angry, too hurt, too afraid, or simply haven’t considered it. A professional can help you with this.
Remember, if you are employing these rules and changing the way you fight for the first time, the change will be gradual so look for tiny victories – little ways in which your fight was more constructive than the last time.