Yes, a fight can actually bring you together.
In a perfect world, couples would never fight. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and people in relationships often feel misunderstood, neglected, insecure, and any number of other emotions that can lead to fights and disagreements.
That doesn’t mean your relationship is headed for doom and gloom, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you're any 'less connected' as a couple.
Fighting, or arguing, can even be healthy for a relationship IF it’s done respectfully and you both come out of it with a better understanding of the other person when the conflict is resolved.
Putting some thought into what you want to say (and how you'll say it) BEFORE you engage in a disagreement with your partner is wise. Here are some of the basics to keep in mind:
Be very specific when you introduce your complaint.
State what change would satisfy your complaints.
Bring up only one issue at a time: get one issue fully resolved before moving on to another.
Be prepared to compromise — win/win is the ultimate goal.
Never assume: ask your partner what they're thinking or feeling.
Now, all of that said, once you step into the arena of an argument, it's easy for things to go awry quickly.
So, here are six rules to help you "fight nice" the next time you and your partner squabble:
- Agree on a code of behavior
In most relationships there’s one person who’s more verbal. If this is you, you might feel you have a partner who shuts down when arguments arise. People need to be allowed to quit on the discussion temporarily and return to the discussion at a mutually agreed upon moment. This allows the less verbal to have some control over timing (spontaneity is not usually their friend). But there are people who will always quit on a discussion and will never re-approach or resolve the problem. If this sounds like your partner, go back and review the fight rules together, strike what you can’t agree on, and write more rules of your own that apply specifically to your relationship. If you can agree on a code of behavior, it levels the playing field for both the verbal and less verbal players, and will make resolving a disagreement a bit easier.
- Set a time limit
Someone who avoids confrontation is often someone with limited focus, and a time limit helps maintaining focus on the topic at hand. A time limit also helps the more verbal person to work on being succinct and get to the bottom line more quickly.
Don’t explain why you want what you want, when you first wanted it, and so on, in great detail. Your listener could be worn out before you’ve gotten around to saying what you want. Try saying what you want, quickly, with no explanation of why you need it or why you should be getting what you are asking for. Then get the feedback. Maybe there’s nothing more to say.
- Don’t dredge up the past
Yes, fights are often rooted in the past, but you can’t fix the past, only the present. The worst thing you can do in a fight — other than physically or verbally attacking — is drag the past into it, and blame someone today for something he or she did a week, a year, or a month ago. Save talks about the past for times when you’re not fighting.
- Listen, listen, listen
When you’re working out a disagreement with your partner, be sure to give your undivided attention, make eye contact, and stay rooted to the spot. Taking a phone call or texting isn’t only ineffective listening, it can be hurtful. If you look like you’re listening, you are communicating that you truly care and care about what is being discussed. Even if agreement isn’t reached, your partner will at least walk away feeling heard.
- Don't interrupt your partner.
Be especially mindful not to finish sentences or try to “help” your partner communicate in a fight. Don’t help. You can and should restate what you believe he or she is trying to communicate to you, but a fight is really not the time to put words into his mouth, finish his sentences, or tell her how she feels.
- Don’t be afraid to go to bed mad.
Contrary to popular belief, going to bed angry is not the worst thing in the world. Couples’ fights often happen at night. Why? Sometimes it’s because people are tired, which makes everything seem more dramatic.
If you can go to sleep with a truce, or a pause, whatever it was you were fighting over may not seem so bad and sometimes not even memorable after you’ve slept on it and in the light of day.
Some couples argue more often and find its part of their sense of passion.
They might just be more emotional, and that works for them. No matter who you are, fighting stops working or being constructive when you break the rules. If one or both of you begin making cruel remarks, then you’re just creating garbage. You can be colorful, but never be cruel. If you’ve said something so terrible about your partner that it is unforgettable, you’ve damaged your love and trust. It’s important to keep a sufficiently cool head when fighting to remember that your objective is an even stronger, loving bond when the fight is over.
Dr. Janet Page is a psychotherapist working with individuals, couples, and groups in New York City and Atlanta and is available for appointments, consultation, or speaking engagements via phone, Skype, or in person. To contact Janet, click here.