How you fight is as important as what you are fighting about
Even the healthiest relationships involve conflict. It simply is a part of life. It is normal. There is a definite difference between constructive conflict and destructive conflict however.
Does it ever feel like the fight you just had left you two no better off?
Ever feel like this fight was the same as all the other ones?
Did you end up feeling like things will NEVER better off?
Do you sometimes feel hopeless that things are ever going to change?
I wonder if how you and your partner are dealing with conflict have anything to do with it. Research has shown that how a couple chooses to fight is as important as what the fight is about. Does it feel like the fight is fair? Or does it feel like there are rocks in the boxing gloves?
Here are some essential guidelines to help conflict be constructive:
1. Out is not an option.
At the root of a relationship there has to be an underlying premise that (unless there are extenuating circumstances such as abuse, unsafe situations, etc.) out is not an option. Commitment to each other is essential for a positive outcome. If there is allowed to be even a marginal lingering caveat that this relationship is not for life, there will easily be a point where the temptation that “out will be better” may creep in. That can subvert the entire journey. It was Tertullian who said, “He who flees will fight again.” If the issues of a relationship cannot be dealt with, there sometimes creeps in a belief that getting out may solve it. There is a high likelihood however, that this issue will surface in the next relationship eventually. You might as well deal with it now with integrity. So the first question of constructive conflict resolution is: Where is your commitment level?
This also applies to each argument specifically. It is important to enter a conflict situation with the expectation that at no point will I shut-down or rage-quit. If we agree to deal with an issue it has to mean that I can trust myself and my partner to see the conflict through to a resolve. Entering a fight knowing that you or your partner may at any point decided to check out negatively impacts the boundaries of healthy conflict.
2. Name the better fighter
I can say from experience that naming out loud who the better fighter is can actually help a couple with conflict. This goes unsaid for a long time with many couples. If nothing else, asking the question usually launches a discussion that helps to bring other conflict issues to the surface. It also helps the person who may be the better fighter to see themselves in a new way and hopefully encourage them to graciously adjust their approach if it is too harsh.
3. Choice of language matters
Couples can digress from conflict resolution to a conflict rut. One clear way this can occur is the choice of language. An excellent example is the “you always…” and “you never…” declarations. Rarely does a person “always” or “never” do something. For example, “You always put me down when we are in public.” Really? Always? What is more likely is that there have been times where that has happened and they have been hurtful, however that does not mean the same as “always”. When you are on the receiving end of always/never language it immediately puts you on the defensive. The positive result of choosing to not use “always/never” language is that it subconsciously helps each person in the conflict see an issue to be resolved as a specific issue and not a overarching absolute mode of behaviour. Going into a conflict knowing that you will not use always/never language means that you have already made a decision to isolate the specific, relevant issue from an abstract feeling that cannot be dealt with.
4. Choice of body language matters.
It is becoming increasing apparent that body language speaks just as loud, if not louder, than our actual words. This is acutely important in conflict resolution. Many people are aware of what their body language is for normal situations, however it may be entirely different during a conflict with your partner. Do you ever roll your eyes? Do you snicker? Do you furrow your brows? Do you cross your arms? Do you shake your head? Any gesture like these will likely impede the chances of a positive outcome for conflict. How do you fight with your body language? This would be an excellent question to ask your partner when you are not in the middle of a conflict.
5. Timing is important.
Each couple has to find out what the best times are to discuss difficult issues. I would suggest not beginning early in the morning or late at night depending on whether one or the other is a morning dove or night owl. It is also important to try not to surprise the other person. The best case scenario is to give a person advance warning about when and what needs to be discussed. You may want to consider beginning with something like: “I didn’t feel great about some of the things you said to me yesterday. Is there a time we can set aside to discuss that?” The more advance warning a person has about a discussion, the less defensive they will be.
Anything resonate with you in this? Do you feel like you fight fair? What would your partner say if you asked them?
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