Fights are pretty much unavoidable, so you might as well do them well.
The other day I published a story in which I mentioned that my ex called me a prude.
I lied. He did not call me a prude. At least, not until after he read my article and joked about it.
But I received a few comments and emails from concerned readers who were worried about my ex calling me names.
So let me tell you something.
During the entire time we’ve been together, and although we had quite a few disagreements, I only recall having one fight with him. One.
And the worst thing he said during that fight was that I remind him of his mother.
Truth be told, the way we handled our arguments — including that very last one which I mentioned in my article — was as close to ideal as I ever had with anyone. It is so boring that if I wrote what really happened last week between us, no one would have read my article. So I lied a little to get my readers’ attention.
Please accept my sincerest of apologies.
At least it gave me the idea for this article. Which is about how to have a decent fight with your partner. Pun totally intended.
In an ideal world, we would never fight.
Sure, we’ll have some disagreements, but we’ll discuss them calmly and we’ll maintain our peace of mind. We won’t get emotional and we’ll resolve every conflict using logic and scientific facts.
But we live in the real world.
In the real world, we have some baggage. Our partner has some baggage.
Our emotions, at times, take over and leave little room for reasoning.
That’s when disagreements become fights.
In a semi-ideal world, we can construct our fights methodically.
There are a few practices designed for bringing awareness into fighting.
Some call for taking a break and getting back to the topic when you’re calm. Some call for playing a game to defuse the tension while you’re talking.
Personally, I like the NVC framework. Non Violent Communication, that is.
The basic structure to follow when you’re using NVC is:
- State what you have observed that happened;
- Say how it made you feel;
- Let the other person know which basic need that you have was compromised by the events;
- Make a specific request to avoid a similar situation in the future.
The idea is, if we follow these guidelines, that the other party won’t feel too defensive, and they would review the situation calmly with you until you come to a solution that suits you both.
This structure promotes taking responsibility for our emotions and choosing our words carefully. There’s a degree of detachment as well: we state our emotions without being emotional about them. And by stating our need and making a request, we share our vulnerabilities and we ask for help.
If we practice it perfectly, fights don’t escalate into a blaming game. In fact, we are moving toward getting closer instead of pushing someone away.
In the real world, we are emotional when we fight.
Most of us know that the way we usually fight is stupid.
Moreover — it’s counterproductive.
When we start a fight it’s because something is out of whack and it needs fixing. And what do we do in order to fix it? We are blaming, pointing fingers, shouting, calling names. How will any of these ever help fix our problem?
If you are okay with having a relationship based on fear and inequality, you might get away with continuing to fight this way.
But for those who are wishing to evolve beyond that, to have a relationship that is based on cooperation and respect, fighting this way won’t do.
That’s when we seek ways to fight smarter (see paragraph above).
However, knowing that we need to fight in a smarter way does not help when we are in the midst of an emotional state.
Unless you are enlightened or close to it, there’s a good chance that when emotions take over, they are running the show. And all the ideas and ideal ways of fighting are out the window.
How can we move toward fighting smarter when emotions take over?
It’s a combination of awareness, having a strategy, and lots of practice.
When we realize that there are ways to fight smarter, the first step is to make the intention to use these techniques. That doesn’t mean, though, that we will immediately be able to apply them.
It might take a little while before you notice that a shift is happening. In the meantime, you’ll find yourself pondering at the end of the fight — why did it escalate? How come I didn’t use the techniques for smarter fighting? As you progress with your awareness and practice, you might find yourself trying to apply these techniques during a fight, at least for a few moments before going back to the old patterns of fighting.
If you keep at it, you are bound to improve until, one day, you’ll find yourself applying your “fighting smarter” methodology without even noticing that you are doing so. It will become second nature. And fighting stupidly will be a thing of the past.
While you’re progressing on the path to fighting smarter, please don’t feel guilty if you didn’t manage to control your emotions and fight respectfully. Forgive yourself and remind yourself that this is the real world.
If you ended up in an ugly fight where you said stupid things and did not end up with some sort of resolution, the way to move forward is to repair.
If you want your relationship to thrive, you must repair after a fight.
You just had a terrible fight.
You said some things that were not helpful at all.
Your partner said some things that really hurt you.
And now, the emotions have subsided enough for you to be able to reflect.
This is the first step of repair. After all, if you can turn this fight into a learning and evolving opportunity, your relationship will benefit tremendously.
There are a few questions you could ask yourself:
- What did I say that was untrue? What do I regret saying?
- What did my partner do or say that triggered me so much?
- What is the truth behind the things my partner said? What do I agree with and can I make an effort to adjust?
Once you thought about these things in your head, please make sure your partner knows. Let them know about your thought processes. Just saying “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean to hurt you” is not enough, but please do apologize if you hurt them.
Now it’s a good time to open up the subject again — this time from a calm space. This time, use a “smart fighting” methodology that works for you to stir clear off another explosion.
If it’s a highly sensitive topic, consider the help of a professional like a couple’s therapist to navigate the conversation.
The idea of repairing is to see the fight as an opportunity to grow as a couple. To look at the differences between you, acknowledge them, and learn how to support each other from that place of difference.
Sure, in an ideal world we would never fight.
But as we live in the real world, we might as well use fights as an opportunity to love each other more.