One of the toughest parts of communication is dealing with conflict. In relationships, we often hope to avoid these emotionally charged situations or even convince ourselves that “good couples” or “happy couples” don’t fight (or argue, or disagree or whatever term you like to use here). The truth is that couples who have lasting relationships don’t learn how to avoid conflict or magically agree on everything; they learn how to fight fair.
Fighting fair is part of a healthy relationship but one that is tricky for all of us. Disagreement often leads us to feel, even if only subconsciously, vulnerable and uncertain about our relationship and our partner’s feelings for us. This sense of vulnerability usually triggers a protective response from both people. What looks like bad behavior is usually the result of our inate desire to protect ourselves from getting hurt in our relationship; the problem is that those behaviors are usually the thing that hurt the most.
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This week when conflict arises, I want you to use try some self-soothing to calm yourself down and then apply the following steps to help you and your partner “fight fair”- you just might find that in the end your fighting was the best thing for your relationship.
1. Take a deep breath. calming down helps you to step back from your instinctual responses and reassess what the conflict is really about.
2. Listen. Typically in debate, while our partner is talking we are busy crafting a response rather than truly listening to their position. Agree to take turns simply listening and then repeating back what you heard for clarification.
3. Empathize. Once you have clarified your partner’s position, take a minute to empathize with their perspective. Empathizing means truly stepping into their shoes and understanding how and why they feel what they do. You dont have to agree (you probably won’t) but you do have to find a way to accept that their feelings have equal validity to yours.
4. State your position without accusations. This can be a tough one, especially if you are feeling attacked or dismissed by your partner but try to simply and clearly get your perspective across without requiring your partner to take responsibility for it.
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5. Ask for a compromise. Often there is middle ground that you can both live with if you are willing. The first step to finding a compromise is to make sure that you both feel heard and your feelings have been validated.
6. Remember that the goal is not to win the argument but to improve your relationship. Sometimes you give up the battle to win with war- decide if having your way is going to make the relationship better for both of you. If only one person’s needs get met its only a matter of time before the relationship is going to fall apart