Most people don’t know how to have a good fight, especially with their significant other. They may yell or cry, name call or storm out, avoid it at all costs or make it a daily occurrence. We all fight with our partner, but it takes real skill to do it well. And unless you’ve been to a good couple’s therapist or were a communications major in college, you probably didn’t learn those skills. You’ll never be able to stop all fights (I’ll tell you why later), but you can get a lot more out of them than exhaustion and resentment. Here are four things you can do to fight better with your partner.
State Your Complaint
Be clear and use “I” language instead of “you” language. If you start an argument by pointing out your partner’s character flaws, it’s gonna get ugly fast! And not only that, but you sure as heck won’t accomplish anything. Instead of saying, “You’re such a slob! Why can’t you seem to manage to get your clothes in the hamper?!?”, try saying, “I feel unappreciated when you leave your clothes on the floor.” This lets your partner know that their behavior has an impact on you. It also makes the conversation about behavior (which we can change), as opposed to an inherent defect in who we are (which we can’t do much about). If your spouse thinks of you as a slob, you might as well just be one! But if they’re annoyed with sloppy behavior, you can do something about it.
Make a Request
There’s not much point in complaining if your partner doesn’t know how to fix it. For the most part, our partners want to make us happy. Sometimes, they just don’t know how to do that. And they’re not mind-readers! It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived together for 3 months or 30 years, your partner isn’t in your head. If you want something, you need to ask for it!
So, once you’ve stated your complaint, make your request: “I feel unappreciated when you leave your clothes on the floor. Can you put them in the hamper please?” Be mindful of your tone here. Don’t whine about your request; whining implies that your request isn’t valid on its own. If you believe your request has merit, state it clearly. And don’t be sarcastic or condescending. The solution to this problem may seem obvious to you, but it might not be to your partner.
I recently pointed out to my husband that he’d gotten into the habit of leaving the toilet seat up, so I asked him to be mindful about putting it back down. He mentioned later that he realized it’s such an automatic behavior to put it up, he doesn’t even remember doing it. So, consequently, he doesn’t think about putting it down. Our partners will have habits that they aren’t conscious about. If it bothers you, say so, and let them know how they can change it.
Listen Without Defending
I know, it’s hard! Even if your spouse did steps 1 & 2 right, you might still feel attacked. And when we feel attacked, we criticize or stonewall. We find their flaws and weaknesses and exploit them. Or we tune them out or belittle their complaint. Defensiveness can bring out our nasty side. So, I want you to pause for just a moment.
What is your spouse really wanting here? Do they have a need that’s not being met? Do they feel hurt or disappointed? Think of yourself as a reporter and just observe and listen. Ask these questions:
● What are they saying? (the actual words)
● What are they feeling? (maybe their actual words, maybe what you might feel if you were in their shoes)
● What are they asking for? (the actual words)
One of the ways we mess things up is by editorializing our partner’s words. Just sit tight on that for a minute. First, find out if what you heard was what they said. Repeat it back to them and ask if you heard it right. Is there anything they’d like to add? If they confirm that you got it right, great! Now you can respond. But if there’s something you missed, they can clarify that before you reply.
Find the Deeper Meaning
Both people need to feel heard and understood. That doesn’t mean you have to agree! In fact, there are many things you’ll never agree about. According to Drs. John and Julie Gottman, 69% of couple’s conflict is unresolvable. The goal then shifts from fixing it, to talking about it. You may have a similar conversation over and over, but it’ll be like driving a familiar road, rather than being stuck in the mud. At least you’ll be getting somewhere!
Maybe he loves having the guys over for game day and she hates entertaining. Well, no matter how many times you fight, neither of you is going to change your mind! But, you can compromise once you understand your partner’s reality.
It’s not that he’s selfish and inconsiderate, it’s that game day has been a family tradition for 40 years and it means a lot to him. And she’s not cold and aloof, she just works all week at a high demand job and needs the weekend to recharge. The conversation takes on new meaning when we really listen to and understand the deeper meaning for our partner. We can focus on meeting the need, rather than the issue that brought it to our attention.
Make it Matter
If you approach a fight as a battle to be won, you’re both going to lose. Conflict doesn’t have to mean the gloves come off. Conflict is an opportunity. You can actually get to know your partner better through conflict than through peace sometimes. Conflict lets you know what matters to your spouse. That’s intimacy, my friend!
If these strategies for better fighting were helpful and you want more, I can help! Call me today at 909-307-4212 for a free 15 minute consultation.