No matter how happy you are, there will always be plenty of issues on which you and your partner don’t see eye to eye. But whether you’re arguing about unloading the dishwasher or the impending arrival of unwanted (for you, anyway) house guests, the subject matter is often irrelevant. Ultimately, it’s not what you’re fighting about that really matters, but how you fight: Do you fight to win or fight to love?
When you fight to win, you are putting your need to be right ahead of your partner’s feelings and your relationship. Fighting to win is a negative tactic because the momentary feeling of vindication that you get when you are “right,” or when you badger your partner into an apology, pales in comparison to the feeling you get when you have true, authentic communication.
So while it’s important — even healthy — to disagree with your partner, you need to learn to fight constructively to maintain a loving and functional relationship. If you can keep your perspective when things are at their worst, you and your partner will make it through to happier times! Here are ten ways to help you learn to fight fair.
One of the best ways to fight well is to speak what you know to be true. Speaking unarguably involves five main steps: sharing a physical feeling (“My chest hurts”); sharing an emotion (“I feel sad and scared”); sharing a thought that inspires those feelings (“I feel sad because I thought you would rather be with your friends than me tonight”); sharing a fact that you know is true (“I left five messages on your voicemail”); stating what you want (“I would like it if you would check in with me before you leave work so I can know when to expect you”).
Take a Preemptive Pause
Cutting off an argument can actually be a relationship lifesaver. Once you've said something awful, whether you meant it or not, it can't be taken back. Even if your partner does his best to forgive you, resentments can fester and even lay the groundwork for future arguments.
Acknowledge Your Physical Reaction
It's good to practice physiological soothing techniques when things get heated. When anger starts to rise, so does your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. You physically feel angry, which can make your emotions seem more intense than they are. Take a step back when you feel this happening and observe your body's reaction. Breathe deeply for a moment, and try to separate your mental reaction from your physical reaction. Allowing yourself to be overtaken by heightened negative emotions can cause you to say and do things you may regret later.
Soften It Up
Sometimes it’s okay to shift course: Injecting a little humor or even a tender touch into your argument can go a long way toward redirecting. Reach for his hand or make a joke; both gestures will help him feel less threatened and calm him down.
Mirror What Your Partner Says
Arguments often escalate because one or both partners interpret something incorrectly. It can be helpful to have each of you repeat what the other one has just said before you respond to it; this way you ensure you're understanding each other's messages. For example, your mate says, “Sometimes I just need a night out with the guys without having to call in, and when you question me about it I feel pressured.” Even if it feels a little odd at first, mirror his words very closely: “So, as I hear it, sometimes you feel you really just need a night out with the guys and when I question you about it, it makes you feel pressured.”
Avoid Dangerous Territory
These are some sure signs that a fight is heading into dangerous waters: bringing up the past for no good reason, criticizing each other's family or friends, and any sort of name-calling. You know when you or your partner has started to go for the jugular. At this point, it is best to walk away. Nothing will get accomplished when one or both of you is so fired up. Let cooler heads prevail, and you'll both be grateful later.
Own Your Feelings and Emotions
When you do make your complaints known, start your statements with "I feel" instead of any sentence beginning with "You." Take responsibility for your feelings, asking clearly for what you need from your partner and being certain to respond to his cues, instead of rigidly following a script for what you want to happen.
Revisit the Argument
If your partner has a tendency to stonewall or get exasperated, walk away temporarily. Pleading with him to talk to you when he doesn't want to is a losing game. Try approaching him later, preferably within a few hours, to set up a time to discuss it. This is also a good technique for fights that have spun out of control since it cuts down on those impulsive, hurtful words that can never be taken back.
Try True Empathy
Empathy is the act of putting yourself in another's shoes, moving outside your own head and into his. Both of you will be able to look at a conflict from a whole new angle, and each will have a better chance of understanding where the other is coming from. Reexamine his behavior as though it makes total sense. Understand that what he wants feels right to him. Is he yelling at you because he feels sad, and anger is a more comfortable way for him to show it? Is he withdrawing because he feels that nothing he says will be right? Think from his point of view, and you might discover the source of your dispute.
Find the Win-Win
If you stay open-minded, you have the best chance of reaching a resolution that pleases both parties. For instance, if you are arguing because his favorite team is playing on your date night and he has been hinting that he wants to watch the game, brainstorm together to find a solution. Maybe you can go out to dinner together and then he’ll meet his friends afterward. Or maybe you can reschedule the babysitter for the next afternoon and plan on a romantic picnic then instead. You just have to let go of being the only “winner” in the situation.