Let’s face it, couples fight. They just do. No one agrees on everything. Fighting isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. There can be some positive benefits to it. In this entry, I talk a bit about the reasons that people do fight, and some strategies for fighting fair.
There is a difference between annoyances and the bigger issues that really need to be addressed. Annoyances can be the tip of the iceberg and actually may mask the bigger issues. We can get so caught up in the annoyances, like who’s turn it is to do the dishes or who was supposed to walk the dog, that it allows us to avoid talking about the big ticket items in our lives. The annoyances can build up, however, and become bigger items. For example, if your partner never helps with chores despite conversations about it (and arguments) then a bigger item could be created around caring for the house, in general.
There are things that couples argue about more often than others, pretty much across the board. In fact, I’d say that there are 4 issues that generally fall into the “bigger issue” category. These include: money, sex, parenting and extended family.
Another important factor in arguments is gender differences. We don’t always think about this, but it is a factor in HOW we fight. Men and women do fight differently. Men tend to be problem solvers. They rush past the emotional content of an issue and try to fix it, change it or solve it. Women tend to get stuck in the emotional content first and feel that that needs to be recognized before they can move on. The conflict arises because each person feels unheard or misunderstood. The woman doesn’t feel as though the man is listening; the man feels as though the woman doesn’t want his help and it all goes downhill from there. Basically, if each can stop and take a minute to pay attention to what the other person needs, and validate, or recognize the other person’s feelings, it will help decrease the intensity of the disagreement and help lead to resolution.
As I mentioned earlier, fighting doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, some experts believe that arguing — far from being a bad thing — is actually one of the healthiest things a couple can do. Research from the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver found that couples who argue are more likely to be satisfied with their marriages than couples who withdraw from conflict.
Taking the time to think about your conflicts and their deeper meanings is key. “Conflict,” explains James Sniechowski, Ph.D., a couples’ counselor, “is generally understood to be either win or lose. And in that context, it’s unattractive and dangerous. But conflict is in fact a signal from the relationship saying, ‘Something has to change. Pay attention here.’ And once you understand this, conflict can become the doorway to more intimacy in all areas: emotional, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual.”Great news, right? Fighting can actually bring couples closer together and improve the relationship. That’s only possible, though, if you work to resolve relationships conflicts in a healthy way. Below are some tips on how to fight respectfully.** Clarify what the argument is about: you may be arguing about the same thing on the surface, but about something different underneath. Make sure you are both aware of what the argument is about.
- ** Take ownership: Use “I feel” statements. It sounds cliche but if you can take ownership of how you are feeling, it helps keep things nondefensive and nonjudgmental. Stay away from the “shoulds” too. Shoulding on each other won’t get anything accomplished and will only make things escalate
- Validate: Recognize that the other person’s feelings or thoughts are valid to them. You don’t have to agree to validate. Validation is an awareness of the other person in a way that decreases conflict. Say things like: “I understand that you feel that way, and…..” or “I’m sorry you are feeling frustrated.” Echo back part or all of what is being said.
- Don’t interrupt: Interruptions, in many ways, show that you aren’t really listening, you are just working to get your point heard. If you can slow down and listen, you can really hear what is being said and then, hopefully, move on.
- Fight fair: Don’t fight to win. Don’t hit below the belt and decide that this argument is about every trespass that has ever happened. Stay on point. Fight to get on the same page and build a better marriage, don’t fight to win.
Fight away, then! Just be respectful and work to build a more positive relationship, rather than break down the one you are in.
Here’s the link to the segment I did on The Early Show about this topic: