Relationships improve with fair-fighting methodsCouples fight. That’s not to say they all wage World War III in their living rooms, but any two people in an intimate relationship will encounter areas of irreconcilable differences, says Tina Johnson, a Fargo clinical social worker who specializes in marriage counseling.
By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM
That’s not to say they all wage World War III in their living rooms, but any two people in an intimate relationship will encounter areas of irreconcilable differences, says Tina Johnson, a Fargo clinical social worker who specializes in marriage counseling.
“If you don’t have a way or strategy to handle these differences, they get avoided,” Johnson says.
The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict, writes Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.
“And what’s sad is the reason we avoid conflict is because we believe it will cause divorce,” Sollee writes. “Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationships and improve intimacy.”
Let’s call it fighting fair.
Many couples don’t have tools to resolve conflicts in a healthy way and end up resorting to “dirty fighting tactics,” Johnson says.
Some examples of these include:
- Bullying (screaming, exploding, intimidating).
- Bringing up more than one issue or complaint at one time.
- Exaggeration (“You always …”).
- Mind reading or expecting the other person to read your mind.
- Playing the martyr.
Dawn Kuntz, a therapist at Lakeland Mental Health Center, also labels name calling, physical aggression and the silent treatment as below-the-belt fighting tactics.
“The silent treatment is as aggressive as screaming and shouting because that also does a lot of harm because it leaves the other person guessing,” Kuntz says.
Johnson said it’s important that people recognize what tactics they turn to when they’re stressed. Often our parents’ fight styles, or lack of, influence our own.
“Do you get aggressive. Do you shut down? Do you escape?” Johnson said. “I was a good blamer and a good distracter.”
This awareness allows them to be flexible and change the way they fight.
Keeping it clean
In a healthy fight, people avoid saying “always” and “never.” They avoid making assumptions about the other person’s point of view. They are clear about their needs.
“When communicating, you need to use assertive language, and that means starting each of your sentences with ‘I,’ ” Kuntz says. “ ‘You’ is aggressive language.”
It’s also important to validate the other person’s view of the conflict, Kuntz said. “Validate does not mean agree, but it means ‘I’ve heard you,’ ” she said.
It isn’t difficult to learn how to create a safe environment for handling conflict, but it does require an interest by both parties, Johnson said.
It also takes time. “You will make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Each fight you have, you can use it as a learning experience.”
Also, it’s important both people understand that the fight is for the greater good of the relationship. It can’t be about one person winning, because then the relationship loses, Johnson said.
Kuntz often uses a sports team analogy: “You’re not a Viking and a Packer. You’re both Vikings or you’re both Packers. You work as a team,” she says.
Fight in front of kids?
If you’re using those dirty fighting tactics: No.
But if you’re practicing good conflict resolution skills, absolutely – as long as the subject matter is age-appropriate.
“You always want to keep adult issues away from the kids. Kids need to be kids,” Kuntz said.
But it can be good for kids to see their parents talking assertively, respectfully and in a caring manner.
“We’re teaching these children how to deal with conflict,” Johnson said.
How to fight fair
- Keep it private. Have the self-control to contain yourself until you can talk privately.
- Keep it relevant. Don’t bring up old grudges or sore points when they don’t belong in a particular argument. Put boundaries around the subject matter.
- Keep it real. Deal with the issue at hand, not the symptom of the problem. Get real about what’s bothering you.
- Avoid character assassination. Don’t attack your partner personally or name-call.
- Remain task-oriented. Know what you want going into a disagreement. If you don’t have a goal in mind, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it.
- Allow for your partner to retreat with dignity. Recognize when an olive branch is being extended to you – perhaps in the form of an apology or joke.
- Be proportional in your intensity. Not every single thing you disagree about is an earth-shattering issue.
Arguments should be temporary.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556