Psychologically Speaking: Fair fighting

The secret of good fighting is to become even closer after the disagreement is over.

argument couple 88 (photo credit:)
argument couple 88
(photo credit: )
In my last column I addressed the issue of fighting in front of the children. All couples fight, because it's only natural that no two people should agree on everything. The secret of good fighting is to become even closer after the disagreement is over. Why do couples fight and how can one fight fairly to make a relationship better? It starts off easily enough. A man and a woman meet. They fall in love. They stare at each other and in their smitten state, one would do just about anything for the other. The amount of goodwill is beyond belief. It is easy to give in to the other because one wants to. It is wonderful and this continues for quite a while until the honeymoon ends. Reality strikes and with it comes that first argument. What happened to ruin such a state of bliss? In the beginning when one feels generous and kind toward a new person, there is a desire to support and accommodate him and his needs and desires. As time goes on, one's own needs start to resurface and conflict comes about because you have two different people each asserting his or her own needs and desires, each wanting to be happy and yet still wanting for the other to be happy. If the couple can negotiate these differences well and work together to resolve conflicts, they will grow together and become closer. If they can't, conflict can take over and the couple may run into difficulty, especially if this destructive pattern of relating becomes the norm. With time, this can tear the relationship apart. So one of the secrets to maintaining a good relationship is that of learning how to fight fairly, rather than trying to avoid a fight altogether or destroying what as a couple you've worked hard to build over time. I am more concerned with couples who don't fight. I might ask why do they "avoid" fighting and at what cost? Perhaps they never seem to disagree with each other, but perhaps they may not seem to care either and this can be the sign of something far more serious. Are you one of these couples? Some questions to consider: Ask yourself what starts or provokes an argument for each of you and what maintains it? In what ways do you each benefit? What do you have to give up to not argue or to end an argument? Rules for fighting fairly: Walk away from a potential fight by taking a time out if you feel the topic is too hot to allow you to maintain your calm. You must return, so let your partner know when that might be. Then proceed to step 2. Don't assume that the issue is resolved because you are now calm. The issue can only be discussed because you are calm. Recognize that your partner should express how he feels. Ask him to tell you why he is upset. Ask him nicely to "tell you more" when he is finished talking. Keep asking this until you have heard it all. Then ask him if he'd like to add anything else. When he is done, restate his points in a format such as, "so you mean..." to make certain you and he are understanding each other. Never interrupt your partner when he is telling you why he is upset. Your goal is to listen, and try to understand where he is coming from. You goal is not to necessarily agree but to try to understand his perspective. What might you want if you were in his situation and how might you feel if the shoe were on the other foot? When he has finished expressing himself, it can be your turn to tell him how you feel. He must listen and not interrupt, can say "tell me more" until you are now done and then restate what you've said to ensure he understands. Do not raise your voice. For the message to be heard you can neither shout nor be negative. Be respectful, open and accepting. Do not blame or attack. Do you typically speak loudly when excited or angry, or is this part of a larger problem that must be addressed? Ask yourself if this is how you would talk with a colleague at work. If the answer is no, modify what you are doing. Use "I" statements. "I feel..." Remember it is your perception that is important, even if it is inaccurate. "You" statements (such as "you never take out the garbage") don't belong as they typically assign blame. Be very specific in what you address. Talk in the here and now. The past is irrelevant and doesn't belong if you hope to attain closure in the current discussion. Once you have both expressed yourselves, brainstorm together as to what possible acceptable solutions there might be. The goal is not to "win" or "be right" and have your partner "be wrong," but rather to work together on the same team without trying to change the other person. This takes both negotiation and compromise. Agree to try these solutions and set a time to reevaluate how they are working. If one person breaks the rules, have the other person point it out nicely and start again as needed. Learn how to laugh and have fun together as a way to see and accept both the good and the bad. It breeds goodwill and this, like in the beginning of your relationship, is a critical aspect of any relationship. Go for counseling if you are unable to resolve issues or if there is anger or abuse. The role of a non-judgmental therapist is to help you work to resolve conflicts. Sometimes a third person can help you put it all in perspective and help you bring back a bit of the good old days. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana. ludman@netvision.net.il