How to fight. Constructing, not destructing

I was spending time with a friend today, talking about relationships. We were talking about fighting. That type of fighting where you don’t get anywhere. You go round and round and round. You are fighting so hard to be heard, that you can’t hear your partner.

So your partner keeps fighting to be heard. So you keep fighting to be heard. And on and on. And on.

It usually ends in below the line behaviours: blame, deny, justify, defend.

Usually, it ends in a relationship rupture, which then requires repair. Whilst ruptures and repair are things that all relationships endure, it can become tricky when the problem in point doesn’t get addressed. You become locked in a dance of both wanting to be heard and neither feeling heard. Eventually one of you breaks the gridlock and you reconnect, but the causation (original problem) is still unresolved.

So how to do you break the cycle? I’ve broken it down into several key steps

Spend some time setting the rules of engagement

Couples need to have time to invest in each other. This time out from the demands of the ‘real world’ are a good opportunity for you to talk through how you resolve problems as a couple.

Guiding principles that work in our family:

  1. One person speaks at a time. 
  2. The other person listens. Really, really listens. Listens to understand, not to argue back. The listener wants to be able to distil the issue into a short sentence. Wait until your partner has finished talking before you speak. Allow space for any emotions, whilst keeping yourself safe.
  3. When the listener has the sentence they believe is what their partner is trying to explain say: “It sounds like you are saying XYZ, is that right?”
  4. If that is not right, try again.
  5. When understanding has been reached, it’s time for the other person to respond. Before this can happen, it helps if everyone is calm and not feeling under threat. Take some time out if you can’t maintain calmness to spend some time working out what is triggering you.
  6. Now switch roles. The person who was speaking is now listening to understand. Really, really listening. Not interrupting until everything has been said.
  7. Now the listener plays back the sentence they believe captures the essence of what is being communicated.
  8. If that is not correct, keep working until you have a sentence that works for you. Don't worry if this takes awhile. Building any new skill takes time and patience.

Holding the space

Now you have a good idea about how to get to the root cause of the problem. By holding space for one person to speak, and be understood, at a time, both parties will be able to be heard. When both points of view are available for consideration, you can then start to make sense of the issue.

You may not be able to reconcile this argument as quickly as you would like. Arguing is deeply uncomfortable and we usually want those feelings of discomfort to abate as quickly as possible. The trick to long lasting resolution is to hold the space open until you have both come to a mutually agreeable/beneficial resolution.

Be kind. Always.

This person is someone you love. Very much. In the heat of the moment we can forget what is important, this relationship. We can forget that the people who we choose to love and be loved by usually have the most important life lessons to teach us.

Use kind words. Believe that you can do this, together.

Look at this argument as a way to build and strengthen yourself, your partner and your marriage, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

How do you fight in your relationships?