Some couples never fight. Others do it all the time. It’s easy to see relationship fights as negative events, yet in actuality they can also be positive steps to building a firmer foundation. It all depends on your perspective. Let’s look at this a little deeper.
James and Alicia fight rarely. When it does happen James takes it in his stride and once it is over he forgets it. Alicia feels differently, it upsets her for days. She says she keeps re-running the fight in her mind. She ‘hears’, over and over, the harsh words uttered by both of them. She says she feels shaken to the core and it takes a long while before she is able to relax back into normality. They would like to know how to handle, or avoid, the emotional storms so that Alicia can accept that James still loves her even through a fight.
Cheryl and Dwayne fight all the time. They both agree that's just how it is with them. Cheryl says they almost enjoy their relationship fights because the making up is worth it. However, they also say that sometimes the fighting gets out of hand, that it’s too frequent and seems to start over the most trivial reasons. They want to be able to defuse an argument before it escalates into a big fight.
1. How to Handle Relationship Fights
It’s difficult to think during a fight. Anger propels hurtful words right out of your mouth. You want to shock your partner into seeing some truth that is obvious to you. Why don’t they get it?
Stop yelling and breathe. Stop telling your partner what they said or did wrong. See how far the argument has moved away from the original dispute. Are you still arguing about who put the spoon in the wrong drawer or is it really about the affair you had three years ago?
Say, “Are we fighting about something else here?” Wait for the answer and then say, “C’mon, we can talk about this now if you like, or we can talk about it later?” The fact that you took a step back gives you both a little breathing space and a chance to calm down. Your partner will either agree to a discussion there and then, or you can make a pact to talk when you are both ready.
It helps to visualize a fight as you throwing yourself against an invisible, energy-fueled wall that you can’t knock down. Your partner is doing the same thing on the other side. You can’t make progress until the wall has crumbled of its own accord, and it can only do that if you stop feeding it with energy. The good new is that it only takes one partner to stop pushing. As soon as you do that, the wall disappears and the other partner has nothing to push against. The energy of anger has to dissipate.
You can use this method at any time during the disagreement. Right at the beginning is always best, thus the fight doesn’t get going before you have both agreed to talk about it.
2. How to Make Up After a Fight
The immediate aftermath of a fight can be compared to a war zone. The atmosphere is usually dreadful. There may be tears, anger, hurt feelings, guilt, sadness, emptiness, silence, and often a mix of all of those and more.
If you can bring yourself to do it, reach out and touch your partner on the arm. Look right at them. There will either be a stony silence or they will move toward you. If it is the former, say, “Okay, it’s over now, let’s agree to discuss this later, yes? How about I make you a coffee?”
Once all is calm, say, “Maybe we can learn something from all of this, what do you think? I love you and I want us to be happy – can we talk properly tomorrow (or whenever?)." You are validating your partner's opinions by asking them what they think. You are affirming that the fight hasn't destroyed the relationship. You are confirming that you still love them. And you are offering a solution, showing that you are on their side. Win win.
3. What Are You Really Fighting About?
While the reason for the fight may seem obvious, it’s almost always the case that the underlying causes are quite different. For example, partner A complains that partner B is not doing their share of the chores. That may or may not be a valid point, however the real problem is that partner A feels overworked, unappreciated and taken for granted. Partner B feels that they are already doing their share and that Partner A is expecting too much.
Or maybe Partner B complains that Partner A is always tired and unwilling to have sex. Partner A is actually feeling that Partner B is too controlling and wishes that he would let her take the initiative. As soon as he mentions sex, she is immediately turned off and says she would prefer to sleep. In reality she’s not averse to making love but she wants it to happen spontaneously rather than in a pre-planned, matter-of-fact way.
You may not even realize the underlying cause, so it is important to identify what the deeper problem is. Once you’ve worked it out, you need to have a discussion about it with your partner. You don’t even have to reference the fight. Instead ask them if you could have a talk. No TV, no alcohol, nothing that can distract or interfere.
When you describe the problem to your partner, use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. After all the issue is yours, even if it’s their behavior that’s causing it, so own it. Ask them if they can help you deal with it and listen to their suggestions. Ask them for their perspective… again, listen. You might be surprised that they also have an issue about your behavior or attitude. Be prepared to hear some uncomfortable truths. Do your best to stay calm. Agree that you should both have some time to think about what has been discussed.
When you are ready, come back to the discussion, even if it is several days later. You should have thought about what you can change about yourself to accommodate each other’s feelings. Agree a plan of action, be positive and move on.
In this way, you are using your negative feelings to create a positive outcome. Relationship fights? Who needs them?
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