December 11, 2018
While fighting with your spouse, parents, teenager, or best friend might not be an enjoyable experience, it is an inevitable one. Conflicts will arise, you and your loved one(s) will disagree on something, or just get on one another’s nerves, and a fight or an argument ensues. The good news is, there is a lot of research showing that fighting does not have to be a bad thing, and that arguing can in fact be a healthy part of a happy relationship. The key is knowing how to fight well.
Use “I” Statements
This is a classic rule for fighting fair, and it can be so helpful! When we fight, we often automatically feel defensive. We want to protect ourselves from whatever is coming, and the easiest way to do that is to place blame on the other person. Now in some cases, blame may genuinely lie with just one person. However, regardless of where the blame should lie, the confrontations and conversations can be much more productive if we use “I” language rather than “you” language. For example, if your partner or kid makes a comment that hurts your feelings, your go-to reaction might be “You are so mean to me, it’s like you don’t care about me at all”. A shift to “I” language would look something like this: “That comment really hurt my feelings and it makes me feel like you don’t care about me at all.” Focus on what is happening with yourself in that moment (“I feel disrespected”, “that made me sad”, “that makes me angry”) rather than what you think your partner is doing wrong.
Share the Floor
Let the other person speak, whether you are the one bringing up the problem or the one being confronted with it. Each person involved in the disagreement need the space to express their own perspective and feelings involved. This one is important for every relationship, but is often one that’s easy for parents to forget. When a conflict comes up with your child, remember that just because you might know best, your child is experiencing valid feelings. Share the floor with them, and allow them to express those feelings and their perspectives.
Take a Break
If you notice yourself or the other person getting worked up or too heated, take a break. Take a few minutes (20 is best according to The Gottman Institute, a reputable research based organization focused on relationships and how they work) to cool down and gather your thoughts. Go for a walk, practice some deep breathing, do some stretching. Then re-engage in the conversation when you both feel ready.
It is critical to re-engage!! Don’t take a break and then forget about it or decide to move on- it’s important to finish the conversation, or you could create an unhealthy habit of giving up on your problems or stonewalling when communication gets tough.
This might be the hardest one. When your teenager or your friend or your partner are speaking, whether it’s complaining or accusing or crying, listen. Don’t spend that time just trying to figure out your rebuttal or your next jab; listen. Listen to the words they are saying and to the emotion behind it. Listen, and then respond having understood.
One last skill- check in with one another to make sure you are understanding. It gives you a chance to step back a bit from the heat of the conversation, and also lets the other person know you are listening and want to understand. Use phrases like “It sounds like you’re upset that I forgot to do the laundry. Is that right?” or “You’re feeling that I disrespected you. Am I understanding you correctly?” to make sure you’re on the same page moving forward.
If you’re having trouble handling conflict with someone in your life, or if you feel like your arguments keep escalating and you don’t know why, it might be a good time to talk with a counselor. Fighting is hard, and fighting well is even harder. A counselor can give you more tips and skills to help you work through conflict in a healthy and productive way.
While conflict is inevitable, there are lines you and your partner should not cross. First and foremost, fighting should never become physical. Confronting disagreements and expressing your emotions are healthy; violence in a relationship never is. If you are experiencing any kind of domestic violence, call this 24-hour hotline now 1−800−799−7233 to speak to trained professional.
Similarly, if you feel you are being constantly disrespected, threatened, or verbally abused, it could be beneficial to talk to a professional. Conflict can be uncomfortable, but you should never feel unsafe. If you do, consider calling the hotline or a counselor to talk through some strategies.
Written by therapist Clair Miller
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