Fighting less isn’t a skill you can acquire overnight. It’s something you need to work on over time. There are two elements that will contribute to the long-term reduction of conflicts within your relationship. The first is how you manage yourself when an issue comes up, whether you choose to just yell it out or find a way to calm down. The second is how you talk through the issue in order to resolve it. Often relationships will find the same issues coming up again and again because they’re not properly addressed each time they come up. Once you get into the habit of resolving them as they come up, you’ll find that over time, the fighting will gradually reduce because every issue will be a new one, rather than a repeated one. It’s unrealistic to imagine that at some point there will no longer be issues, but you’ll find yourselves at a point where you will skip the fight and go straight into resolution mode.
Almost all conflicts and disagreements within relationships are caused by one or all of the following:
- Not having clear goals or direction for the relationship
- Partners not understanding one another’s personal goals and how the relationship is required to support them
- Partners not understanding one another’s expectations of the relationship or each other
When one or both parties are experiencing high levels of stress or fatigue, the above issues are amplified because they tend to desire, need or expect more from the relationship under stressful circumstances.
Once you find a fight brewing, or if it’s already begun, it’s really important to stop, and walk away. The reason for this is that when you’re full of rage and shouting, your ability to think rationally is impaired. You may say things that make it worse, and you’re far less likely to find solutions in this frame of mind. So, stop the argument and walk away. Do something that will calm you down, it might be taking a walk, throwing rocks down the backyard, punching pillows, whatever it takes to dissipate the anger. Once you’ve both calmed down, then you can come back together and begin the resolution phase. To ensure a successful outcome, follow the steps below:
1. Define the problem. In other words, what happened? For example, she asked him to join her at a work Christmas function and he pulled out at the last minute. This is a really important step because if you muddle the issues up, it’s hard to find a clear solution.
2. Establish what went wrong. For example, she had an expectation that if he went to the function that would show his love for her and that some quality time together would be good for them. He knows he loves her and shows her in other ways, so thought that staying back at work and earning a few extra dollars to cover the Christmas period was more important. (By the way, if you realise that it was your own selfishness that caused the dispute, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to admit this. Believe it or not, this will actually engender trust in your partner.)
3. Acknowledge the misunderstanding and forgive. Communicate to each other that you understand what went wrong. If you don’t, say so, and keep asking questions and talking until it’s clear what went on. Acknowledge that both of you were doing what you thought was best for the relationship and forgive each other for the assumptions made.
4. Express your love in your partner’s love language. For example, she might say “I appreciate you working hard so that Christmas is easier for us” and he could say “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, I really do love you, how about we go out for breakfast on the weekend.”
As you move through these steps, make sure you don’t:
- Bring up past poor behaviour. By isolating the current issue, it makes the solution clearer to see.
- Let your ego take over. Remember to fight for your relationship as a team, rather than just fighting for your own needs, or fighting to win.
- Forget to be honest, don’t just say what you think the other person wants to hear, or doesn’t want to hear as the case may be. Remember it’s not about winning the argument, it’s about finding a solution that suits you both, and you can only do this if you’re being honest.
- Personally attack, point fingers at or blame your partner. Remember that you’re a team. If you need to get angry at something, abuse the situation instead.
- Make assumptions or try to read your partner’s mind. Instead, listen to them in order to achieve a deeper understanding of their experience in relation to this issue.
- Let other issues come into the argument. Stay focused on the topic at hand, don’t bring up old arguments, otherwise it gets confusing and you’ll be less likely to achieve a clear outcome. Instead, park them and have one fight at a time.
- Fail to agree that if you can’t find a resolution that you will seek professional help, rather than letting it get in the way of your valuable relationship.
This seems like a pretty simple process, and it can be if you take each issue individually and work through them one at a time so that they don’t build up. Be wary of other issues coming into your discussions, once you identify one, write it down and come back to it later.
For couples with years of issues built up, this may be an arduous process but if you stick with it and commit to a positive outcome for everyone, it will become easier and easier.
It’s really important also to write long-term goals for yourselves as a couple and begin to work towards them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the team effort will prove to you that you can resolve problems together.
Things to give thought to this week:
· Make a commitment to implement the steps above.
· Write a list of the issues that keep coming up time and time again and prioritise sitting down with your partner to resolve them all, one at a time.