Spoiler alert: it’s not about winning or being right.
When I fight with my SO, it feels like my world is collapsing around me.
I’m a catastrophizer. I always think and feel the worst in tense situations. And I’m sensitive AF, which means every tersely exchanged word, look of disappointment or raised voice feels like a blow to the heart.
The upside of my arguing style though, is I tend to suck at keeping a fight going for more than 10 minutes. The pain of knowing something I’ve said or done has upset or let down someone I care about is something I can’t stand to hold onto for the sake of coming out on top.
I’d sooner say I’m sorry, even when I don’t feel at fault, than let an argument linger on into the rest of the day. Plus, makeup sex – mmiright?
But as it turns out, I shouldn’t stress so much about arguing with the object of my affection; rather, my focus should be on my fighting style. There are quite a few things I need to work on, if I want to practice the fine art of ‘fighting fair’, a term used by relationship experts to describe healthy conflict resolution. That’s right; fighting can be healthy. Really!
“Conflict is a fact of life in most relationships, and arguing – as long as it’s not destructive and doesn’t turn into character assassination – isn’t a negative thing,” asserts renowned relationship and self-help author and talk-show host, Dr Phil McGraw.
“How do you argue and how do you resolve the argument? This is the point at which relationships get either deeper or shallower.”
So, are you fighting fair, or playing dirty? According to the experts, these are the key things successful couples do when they argue that ultimately help to strengthen, not weaken, their relationship…
1. They don’t run from the big questions
In all healthy relationships, couples aren’t afraid to look to the future together and address big, scary questions; like when or if they want kids, whether or not their religious and political values are aligned, and what they’d do in the case of either person getting a career opportunity in another city.
“When taboo or uncomfortable topics remain unaddressed, they can turn any benign event into a big drama that could have been avoided in the first place,” says ReLovenship: Look Within to Love Again! author, Diane Sawaya Cloutier.
“Couples who talk about it can manage potential dramas.”
2. They don’t resort to character assassination
It’s tempting to lash out in the heat of the moment and call your SO an “idiot” or say or do something to imply they’re somehow inferior when you’re entangled in a particularly messy argument, but relationship experts warn it’s one of the most damaging moves to make if you want your union to last the test of time.
“This will only ensure there are no winners in your relationship,” says McGraw.
“It makes much better sense to “work the problem”, deal with the issues, and not allow yourself to get into personal affronts and character assassination. It comes down to the rules of fighting fair. Personal attacks violate these rules and greatly jeopardize your relationship with any partner.”
3. They set ground rules
Fighting is a messy affair that doesn’t tend to follow a particularly logical structure; but it needn’t be. Couples who set ground rules for arguing actually have a much better chance of staying on topic, avoiding degenerating into insults and working toward a resolution.
Agreeing on a few simple terms when you’re in a good space and not arguing, can help to set the scene for a more constructive disagreement when you do have a falling out. So what’s a good ground rule for fighting fair? Things like not interrupting one another, actively trying to avoid speaking in an aggressive tone, and making a concerted effort to put yourself in your partner’s shoes when they’re explaining their perspective are all steps toward healthy conflict resolution.
4. It’s never ‘make or break’
One of the most toxic relationship habits a couple can practice is putting the relationship on the line every time there’s an argument. Using ‘ending things’ as a threat or bartering chip in your disagreements is a destructive relationship behavior that almost always creates significant cracks in your bond and severs trust. It also makes the fight about ‘winning at any cost’ as opposed to working toward understanding one another’s opposing perspectives to come to a positive resolution.
“That means no ultimatums. Relationships are negotiations, and when you throw out ultimatums, negotiations have stopped,” explains McGraw.
“When negotiations stop, relationships break down, people get hurt, they make irrational decisions and you wind up with both of you not having what you want.”
5. They call time out
Couples in loving, healthy relationships know how to recognize when an argument is getting out of hand, and pull on the brakes accordingly. This can mean asking for an hour to cool down or take a ‘time out’, or agreeing to revisit the topic the following morning if it’s late at night and you’re both letting exhaustion cloud your better judgement.
“These couples know how to acknowledge and honor their emotions without getting overrun by them,” Amy Kipp, a couples and family therapist in San Antonio, told HuffPost.
“They use self-soothing skills to make sure they’re at their best. When both partners are able to soothe themselves and take breaks, they’re usually able to reach a resolution, or agree to disagree, with more ease.”
6. They’re a team
It’s extremely easy to descend into a ‘You vs Me’ mentality when you’re arguing with your partner, resorting to point-scoring, emotional blackmail and destructive behaviors centered around winning at any cost. But couples who fight fair know that fighting with your SO isn’t actually about winning or losing at all. They see themselves as a team, ultimately working toward a joint resolution, even when their viewpoints on a topic may differ.
“Couples in satisfying long-term relationships are able to remember that, no matter how angry they may be, life will continue after today,” psychotherapist Vikki Stark told HuffPost.
“Because of that, they don’t want to do lasting damage. Even in an emotional state, they are able to hang on to the long-term value of the couple. They’re a team, protecting their future together.”.
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: What’s your failsafe method for resolving a conflict with your partner?