Conflict in relationships is inevitable. You can try to avoid it by tamping down negative emotions and brushing seemingly minor issues under the rug, but at some point, they will come back to bite you. Many times this is in the form of a blowup that is completely disproportional to whatever seemed to trigger it. You end up fighting not only about the topic at hand but ten other previously unaddressed issues as well.
As uncomfortable as it can be, the best way to avoid this situation and grow as a couple is to deal with issues as they occur. Studies have shown that it is not whether a couple fights that predicts divorce, but how they fight.
Here are some tips for fighting respectfully and making an argument an opportunity for growth and resolution:
- Focus on the behavior, not the person. Imagine being on the receiving end of these statements: “You are such an inconsiderate jerk!” and, “I’m really mad that you forgot about our plans tonight.” The first one feels a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Understandable, since it is attacking you as a person. The second one, while perhaps still not pleasant, is simply calling you out on your actions.
- Say it respectfully. Avoid name-calling or hurtful words that you may regret later. Hurling insults will only make your partner feel defensive and potentially create lasting wounds.
- Be specific. Avoid generalizations such as “You always forget our plans,” or “You never listen to me!” Focus on a specific behavior or action and how it affects you.
- Exercise good communication skills. Maintain good eye contact, use “I” statements, identify feelings, and use active listening.
- Crack a joke. While making a joke at your partner’s expense is probably not the best way to use humor in this situation, try making one at your own expense. You’ll lighten the mood while remaining respectful of your partner.
- Take your partner seriously. While you’re cracking those self-deprecating jokes (and hopefully cracking up your partner), make sure you are still demonstrating that you’re taking your partner, the issue, and your relationship seriously.
- Leave the past in the past. Focus on the present. As tempting as it is to bring up that one time, 3 years ago, when your partner (fill in the blank), it is not productive to dwell on things that happened in the past.
- Stay calm. Often easier said than done, but the old saying still works: take a deep breath and count to ten if you feel on the verge of losing your temper. Your partner will be more likely to consider your viewpoint if you speak calmly.
- Keep your arguments private. Discussing your private conflicts with family and friends can seem like a good way to get a fresh perspective on the problem or (let’s be honest) get someone else to see it your way, but drawing in a third person can often cause even more trouble. The issue is between you and your partner, not you, your partner, and your mother/best friend/sister-in-law.
- If you cannot agree… agree to disagree and respect your partner’s feelings and opinions.
You might be surprised by the increased sense of connection and intimacy in your relationship after working through an issue by “fighting fair”. Conflict can be constructive!