Okay, so we don’t always fight fair. Sometimes we get angry. We get ridiculous. We storm out…
Let’s say we try to fight fair. Isn’t that how it is? In relationships we want to fight fair. We want it to end with both parties feeling happy and more deeply connected. We want to feel those fairy tale feelings that we had when we first met the person, when nothing they said made us mad, when they did that weird thing that was too cute to annoy us, when we felt wildly happy to be around the other person. We want to feel happy.
But, we also want our way. That little voice inside of us gets to us. It tells us that we don’t care what’s healthy; we just want to be heard. It tells us we have to be right no matter the cost. It tells us we have to yell, or curse, or scream, or shut down, or do whatever it is we always do that creates the BIG problems in conflict.
Whatever that voice is telling you, stop and back away slowly! If you walk away from conflict feeling disconnected, sad, angry, aggressive, unhappy, and resentful then you’ve got it wrong. What you’re doing IS NOT WORKING! That may be one of the biggest challenges our Atlanta counselors face when it comes to clients. It’s very difficult to get people to realize what they’re doing isn’t working, and then to develop a new patter.
We develop conflict patterns for a variety of reasons. Our past experiences, outcomes of previous conflict, belief systems, thought patterns, and physical sensations can all impact how we respond to conflict. Our families of origin play a role in how we think about conflict. So do our current relationships. That may be too much for this article, but being aware that there is so much more going on with you in this conflict than what is in front of you is huge. Understand that you have much more control in how you feel during conflict than you think. Your thought patterns impact your experiences, and often negative thought patterns stem from past negative experiences.
So, what do you do if you realize you aren’t fair when you argue? What do you do if you realize that you yell incessantly just like your mother did? What do you do if you realize you shut down and shut people out in order to protect yourself from pain in relationships? Well, you can begin by fighting fair.
Tips for Fighting Fair:
- Use I feel statements. Example: I feel ____ when _____________
- Avoid using the word “you” as much as possible. Saying that word tends to put people on the defensive. So, instead of saying “You make me so mad. You never help me with the trash!” Say “I feel overwhelmed when I take the trash out every day. I could use help with the trash. Could we come up with an agreement of days that I take it out and days I can have help? ”
- Say what you want or need. An example of this is above. Sometimes we want think the person should just know, or we feel we shouldn’t have to repeat ourselves. If you’re in a conflict, that is a dangerous judgment. The person doesn’t just know, and since you’re in conflict you may need to repeat yourself but using different words. It’s not worth it to go into the back and forth that people often go into during which they don’t clearly say what they want or need. It usually causes both parties to feel emotionally frustrated, and leads to longer arguments.
- Don’t curse. It’s often times aggressive and disrespectful.
- Don’t bring up the past. Stay in the present moment and focus on what you are needing right now. Do discuss aggreements you have come up with, and identify if adjustments need to be made to those agreements.
- Come up with practical solutions. So many couples miss this. Vague needs are difficult to meet. For example, if I said “I want to feel like you love me.” That is vague. I can’t quantify that. I can’t measure it in order to figure out if I’m doing it right. Instead, make it measurable and practical. You can say “I would feel very loved if you found one genuine way to compliment me every day. Would that be fair? If not, how often do you think you would be willing to compliment me.” I know it may sound awkward, but too many couples struggle with this. Another example would be if I said “I just need some time alone.” That’s not measurable. Instead I could say “I need some time to myself. Can you give me about an hour and then we can catch up about our days? I would love to hear about yours but I need to recharge for a little bit.”
- Avoid name-calling or judgmental statements. Good clues are times when you say “You’re so….” or “You’re such a….”
- Avoid all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid statements that signal that this is what you’re doing. A good clue is to look for times you say things like “You always…” and “You never….”
- Don’t yell and don’t become physically intimidating or aggressive. None of these things help in times of conflict. Instead, stay calm. Maintain a neutral posture.
- Don’t go on and on. If you’ve been in conflict for hours, you’re probably not making progress. In most cases you should take a break. Sometimes when we get food, water, sleep, or exercise we are much clearer headed.
- Look at the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Find ways to connect during the argument. Maybe it’s by pausing for a hug. Maybe it’s laughing about something you said. Maybe it’s about talking about a time you overcame this exact argument. Do your best to connect.
- Figure out negative or unhealthy beliefs you are holding onto that are fueling your unhealthy patterns and deal with them! This is a big one. If you don’t change your beliefs you will not change.
- Accept that some things won’t get resolved. He may always be messy. She may always lose your remote. Some things aren’t worth getting angry over and arguing over. Let them go.