Monique West, LCSW-R
Fair Fighting: Steps To Fighting With A Purpose.
Being in an intimate relationship means that conflict will inevitably occur. The truth is fighting does not have to be experienced as a negative phenomenon in and of itself. Although fighting can be unpleasant fighting can also clarify the other person’s boundaries, beliefs, values and needs. If a couple learns how to listen during an argument to the underlying needs of the partner, then the couple is on the right track to fighting effectively. Couples who fail to listen to understand the other often report high levels of contempt and defensiveness in their relationship.
We will go through a few fair fighting steps in learning how to fight fairly to improve your relationship:
Pay Attention to your nonverbal body language: Couples can pick up on each other’s facial micro expression in less than ½ second. Micro expressions can last 0.5-4.0 seconds. Over time couples understand each other’s facial expressions and can decode micro expressions with meaning resulting in a false emotional reactions. What may be intended to be a frown of confusion can be decoded to your partner as dismissiveness and invalidation; this may then ellicit a verbal argument or defensiveness. It is important to be aware of your facial expressions while you are listening to your partner. It is also important to stay aware of your body language: avoid crossing your arms (communicates defensive posturing), avoid darting eye contact (communicates discomfort or boredom), avoid shrugging shoulders (communicates contempt). Consider instead open body language that is warm and open: Turn towards your partner with your full body (communicates interest), Make solid eye contact (communicates honesty), Head nods (communicates understanding), Neutral facial expression (encourages your partner to continue to share) Taking time outs. If you start to feel increasingly angry or upset and you feel you may say words that could have lasting effects. Use words such as “Honey I need to take a time out right now I find myself getting worked up and I care about you and us too much to say something that I may regret later” It’s important to take a "time out" and do something effective to help yourself feel calm: take a walk, do some deep breathing, play with a pet, write in your journal- listen to music that calms you and not further angers you; It is important to avoid mentally replaying and stewing over the fight while you are taking a time out; rehashing the conflict will not effectively help you re-center and calm down, you may risk having a bigger argument after re-engaging with your partner. If you have asked for a time out it is imperative that you initiate the reconnection and the continuation of the discussion if you do not initiate this reconnection your partner over time will become untrusting of your request for time outs as general avoidance and may not allow you to have this space fearing that there may not be a resolution in upcoming arguments and disagreements. Avoid Shaming/ Blaming Language. Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than on understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone's actions made you feel. Consider using “I” statements instead of “You never listen to me you don’t care about me” consider “I often feel ignored and uncared for when I’m not listened to and my needs aren’t heard in this relationship.” Avoid using global statements (such as: never, always, all the time), Using global statements can incite a bigger fight that involves emotional shielding and slinging insults to inflict emotional harm to prove a point. Be mindful of negative labelling in conflict discussions such as “You are so lazy, ”You are being a crybaby right now” can be harmful to your relationship; Focus on identifying the behavior and not bashing the person, for example consider “I am left feeling under supported and taken for granted when the housework is left solely for me to complete” or “I’m wanting to understand more deeply your concerns but I’m having a hard time hearing the main issue and how it affects you can you tell me in plain terms what is truly bothering you?”
Stay away from stockpiling your grievances. Storing up complaints and hurt feelings over time is damaging to the overall health of a relationship. Your partner will eventually over time start to feel emotionally unsafe in the relationship. It is impossible to deal with mounting old worn out conflicts and issues because each person’s remembrance and feelings may have greatly faded with time. Deal with problems as they come up in your relationship, storing issues will over time break down the foundation of your relationship. Your partner will begin to become suspicious and untrusting of seemingly stable times in the relationship fearing that with the next conflict hidden skeletons in the closet will magically appear resulting in a feel of toxicity in the relationship.
Avoid Stonewalling. Stonewalling is the refusal to communicate or cooperate during a conflict. People who tend to be inclined towards conflict avoidance or emotionally withdrawing are more likely to stonewall. When one person stonewalls in a relationship the other person may have a tendency to pursue but over time in couples therapy we notice that pursuers become emotionally exhausted and the relationship results in a series of passive aggressive exchanges or the relationship decays and atrophies. if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or shutting down, you may need to take a break from the discussion. Pay attention to your somatic (body) cues while shutting down (some people report tightness in chest, difficulty with breathing, hot flushed skin, racing thoughts, feeling of general annoyances or surges of anger/irritation). After recognizing your cues let your partner know you will return to the conversation as soon as you are able to and as outlined in the ‘time out’ step be sure to initiate a signal for a follow up conversation.
Create your own tailored ground rules for conflict with your partner. You may want to sit with your partner when you both are in a neutral emotional space to sit and come up with a list of your own Do’s and Don’ts while embroiled in conflict. Setting your own guidelines that feels true to your own struggles may make follow through more likely and spur a greater amount of accountability in your relationship. Remember that fair fighting is a skill and requires practice. If you find yourself in perpetual conflicts that does not seem to be resolved, couples therapy may be the best option for you and your partner to have a licensed professional offer you an objective point of view paired with skill building for better communication. You can find a licensed mental health therapist experienced in couples counseling at: www.psychologytoday.com
If you are with a person that becomes aggressive, controls finances, attempts to manipulate or control your communication with others, isolate you from loved ones, invades your personal space in a menacing manner, kicks, shoves, punches, pinches or verbally demean you - we would recommend discussing these behaviors with a trained hotline specialist you can visit: https://www.thehotline.org for an anonymous conversation with a trained counselor who will not pressure you to leave your partner if you are not willing to or ready. You can call 1-800-799-7233 or if you are unable to talk you can text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.