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How to Fight Well in Your Relationship

Posted by on July 20, 2019 in Conscious Living, Relationships & Sex with 0 Comments

Image Credit: Tiny Buddha

By Mike Matthews | Tiny Buddha

“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” ~Rumi


I had one of those really intense arguments with my partner recently, and it made me realize the importance of knowing how to fight well in a relationship.

That might sound like an oxymoron, but there isn’t a relationship I know of where the couple doesn’t fall out at one point or another. Fights can make or break a relationship. That’s why it’s important you know how to fight well—because the success of any relationship isn’t based on how well you manage the good times but on how well you can deal with the bad.

Basically, it’s about how well you can learn to fight.

Learning to fight well is important because it can help bring up lots of hidden stuff that’s been lying dormant for years; it enables you to be really honest with each other, which helps you develop deeper levels of trust; and studies have shown that learning to fight well can even improve the intimacy in your relationship.

But back to our fight.

It all started when I was out at friend’s house and lost track of the time. My partner and I had agreed to spend some quality time together that evening, and when I noticed the time, my heart sank. I knew she would be upset as I made the difficult call home, and yep, I was right. She was livid. We then descended into a really uncomfortable argument of blame and counter blame, with a bit of defensiveness thrown in for good measure.

Criticism and defensiveness are two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, as highlighted by renowned relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman. They noticed these two traits are highly correlated to relationships that lead to breakup and divorce.

Whenever my partner and I would have our worst arguments these two traits would always be present, and this time was no different.

That’s why becoming more aware of how you fight can help you avoid relationship Armageddon and instead increase the trust, safety, and love in your relationship. To help with this here are seven key steps to follow when you feel as if you’re descending into another one of those earth shattering fights:

1. Upgrade your language.

Some arguments can help grow the relationship and develop greater levels of trust and intimacy between both parties. Other arguments are the opposite; they create a hierarchy and a power struggle, which diminishes respect, trust, and love.

If we rewind to the start of our arguments we can predict to some extent their “success” by the language that started them and whether it was “hard” or “soft.”

Hard language starts with generic hyperbole like “You always…” or “Why do you never…” or “I knew that you would…” Soft language uses “I” statements and focuses on the actions that took place, how they made us feel, and what we want to happen.

My partner’s language that day was very “hard.” She criticized me and I immediately became defensive as the original story in my head started to change in response to her accusations. The firm agreement I knew we’d made became a tentative expectation in my mind. My lateness was no longer my responsibility but my friend’s, who had been delayed preparing food. Bit by bit I retold the story of what had happened and made myself into a victim of my circumstances instead of the owner that I really was.

The language used at the start of our exchange influenced my response and how the subsequent argument progressed.

The Gottman Institute reported that they can predict with 94 percent accuracy how a discussion will end based on the language used to start it. The softer and kinder our words, the less defensive we become, meaning we are more open to taking responsibility and creating connection instead of disconnection.

A key principle to help with this is to use language to complain but don’t blame.

2. Create space.

Luckily, I had a one-hour drive home to work out what had happened and to get some perspective following our argument. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a crucial period because I used it to work through what had happened, and there’s no way we could have achieved such a good outcome without the time this gave us.

I’ve learned that it’s wise to agree in advance to call a “timeout” or “press pause” before arguments begin. In the past I’ve attempted to call a timeout to create the space to calm down, but this has only made matters worse.

My partner and I now have an agreement that if either of us needs to call a timeout in an argument the other will respect the request. It can be infuriating at the time, but arguing when you are in a low mood or heightened sense of emotion is never going to assist your dialogue. Therefore, it’s important to create space as much as you can.

 3. Safely express your emotions.

On that drive home the first thing I did was shout and scream about what had happened. My inner child had a field day as I moaned and complained to my imaginary passengers about what she’d said and how wrong she was. It was fantastic, and a very cathartic way to clear the negative energy and emotions I was holding on to around the conversation.

When we had the initial phone call I went into a stress response as my body became flooded with cortisol, and my heart rate went through the roof. Expressing my emotions and doing lots of deep breathing on the way home helped me flush the cortisol out of my body and return it to its original state. Without doing this I would have taken those negative emotions and feelings into the resumption of the fight on my return home.

The intense emotions we have during a fight form a negative filter through which we see the relationship. There’s not much our partners can say that we won’t interpret the wrong way when we come from this place. That’s why it’s so important to clear the filter and express your emotions as best you can.

It’s important to make sure that you find somewhere safe to do this, however. Doing it next to your partner won’t go down well, so get out of the house and find somewhere to express your emotions as cleanly and safely as possible so you don’t take it into your next fight,

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