And many people are left wondering: Is fighting bad? Is there something wrong with us? And is there a way to fight fair without completely destroying our relationship?
You already know the answer, don’t you? Of course there is a way!
But unfortunately, many people aren’t equipped with the right skills or mindset to get through tricky arguments without doing some damage.
So where do they go wrong? Let’s take a quick look at how couples typically argue.
How Most Couples Fight
1. They lead with their heart (emotions) rather than their head (thoughts)
Now wait a minute, don’t we want to be tapping into our emotions?
Yes, you sure do! But the problem is that many people let their emotions take over the steering wheel, which is basically what happens during a 2-year old temper tantrum. All emotion… no logical thought…we’ve all seen that movie!
When adults put their emotions in the driver’s seat, the argument quickly escalates out of control, especially when both partners are behaving emotionally.
There are probably times when you’ve witnessed you’re own emotions taking control. For example, let’s say you’re mid-fight and you’re about to call your partner a hurful name. You have a quick thought that sounds something like “yikes, don’t say it, that’s a bad idea!”, and then your emotion basically says “Whatever, here’s goes!”
Emotion wins. Feelings are hurt. And the problem persists.
Instead, you need to find a way to access your higher thinking and integrate it with you emotions so that you can make better decisions mid-fight. And unlike that tantruming 2-year old, you actually have the brain-capacity to think through your emotions and make decisions about what shines through (we’ll talk about how to actually do this later).
2. They want to win
Many people fall into the trap of wanting to “win” the argument rather than searching for the best solution for both people. You’ve been here, right? You might even know you’re wrong, but you keep arguing anyway!
People desperately want to be right, to get their point across, to be heard.
But what happens is that when both people work that hard to be right, no one ever gets heard and no one wins. Both parties sit rigidly on their sides, hoping the other caves. And essentially, a lose-lose dynamic is established.
And sometimes a situation is set up where one person always gives in because they can’t tolerate aguing any longer. Eventually, this person is framed up as being “wrong” all the time. In reality, this person is just sick of fighting!
Couples can lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish in exchange for this one-on-one battle. They become unwilling to compromise or to show understanding or sensitivity, and essentially they prioritize themselves above the relationship.
3. They aren’t quite sure what they’re fighting about
Have you ever picked a fight with your partner and you weren’t even sure why?
When this happens, there’s usually some underlying issue (maybe it’s an unresolved conflict, stress, or frustration) that you don’t know how to bring up, so you create a conflict as a way of relieving the tension or finding an avenue to talk about what’s really going on.
As a result, your partner feels attacked (rightfully so) and confused. Sometimes you’re both aware that there’s a different problem you’re avoiding!
It’s not easy to directly address issues in relationships, but when you don’t, they almost always emerge in other ways, as if they’re in disguise! If you find yourself confused about why you’re arguing or what it’s actually about, then ask yourself (or each other) if there is something a little deeper that needs some attention.
The “LongView” and Why You Need It
When I talk about relationships I often refer to the “Longview” to represent perspective. To keep the longview in mind is to maintain perspective about what truly matters.
Pick your battles
There are times when you’ll need to think carefully about what is best for your relationship in the long run. There’ll always be issue to argue about, but do you always need to engage? Are there things that you can let go of? Places to compromise?
And equally importantly, what areas are you absolutely NOT willing to budge on?
I’m not suggesting that you throw away your expectations and boundaries just so that you avoid arguing, no way! But instead, I recommend that you think carefully about what issues deserve your attention, and have the right to disrupt your relationship.
Showing kindness + respect
The longview is also about how you treat one another during arguments. The words you use, your tone, the underlying emotion, the implicit messages that are sent back and forth.
The care, or lack of care. The respect, or lack of respect. The sensitivity or the unnecessary hurt. These are the things that linger far beyond the argument itself.
Keeping the longview in mind is about caring for your partner during arguments. It’s about showing respect, kindness, and love even when you are angry. And yes, this is really hard sometimes (especially when you want to show them the opposite!), but it will take you so far.
11 Fair Fighting Tips
1. Ask questions
When you get curious about your partner during an argument, you show them that you care about their experience. You demonstrate that it’s important for you to see their side of things and to understand where they’re coming from because after all, this is essential if you want to come to a resolution that works for both of you. Plus, if you give some space for your partner to talk, they’ll be less likely to interrupt you when it’s your turn.
2. Watch your tone
That sounds motherly, doesn’t it? But seriously, this is really important (and something that most of us need to remind ourselves!). Tone of voice is packed full of meaning, so consider what messages you send when you speak harshly. See if you can take a breath, and scale back your tone just a bit so that you are more likely to be received in a gentle and kind way. When you speak aggressively or with attitude, your partner is less likely to actually hear you and want to understand you. Instead, they’ll me more likely to fight.
3. Figure out why you’re mad
Make sure you know what you’re mad about, and work hard at acknowledging these issues head on. Usually all it takes is a brief check-in where you ask yourself, “what’s going on here, why am I so mad?” You could also ask yourself what would be different if the scenario was magically fixed, and that gives you clues about what’s bothering you.
Sometimes we unleash our emotions on our partners when they actually have nothing to do with the problem! For example, let’s say you’re stressed about your kids acting up and you end up saying something snippy to your husband about how he left his plate on the table. You aren’t actually mad about the plate, but you’re holding stress about your kids and you just unloaded on your partner because it’s easiest.
Make sure you’re checking in with yourself regularly so that you’re in touch with what’s really bugging you.
4. Get clear about what you want from you partner
It can be really helpful to make a request during an argument as a way to move things along. You might have had the experience when you and your partner go around and around in circles, rehashing the same things and not actually getting anywhere. Well, sometimes making a request can shift this. For example, you might say something like:
“Ok, so we’ve talked about this for a while, and I think you understand why I am upset. Can you please try to put your clothes away after you get changed? That would really hep this situation.”
5. Demonstrate your understanding of their side
Similar to tip #1 (ask questions), it’s incredibly helpful to show that you understand your partner. In fact, this might be the most important tip to take away from this post. Humans are searching for connection and to be understood. And you better believe this drive is operating in your relationship.
So next time you are mid-argument, make an attempt to reflect what your partner is feeling or the message they are trying to get across. And no, don’t do this in a parrot-like way, but rather, in an empathic and kind way. You might say, “wow, I didn’t realize you were feeling so stressed about our finances…I can see how worried you are and how much you feel like you have all the responsibility.”
Notice how you don’t actually have to agree with your partner. You just have so show them you hear them, you’re listening, you get it. Until you show that you understand them, they will keep repeating themselves and digging their heels in, so the earlier the better.
6. Summarize both positions from time to time
It’s helpful to take a step back every once in a while and clarify what’s going on in the argument. Sometimes arguments can take on a life of their own and end up in a completely different place from where they started. See if there’s an appropriate time to pause, and rephrase where things are at. For example, you could say something like:
“Okay, so you feel like I am always nagging you about helping out more around the house, and you feel like you actually do a lot. And I’m feeling like all the household responsibilities fall on me, which is unfair because I have to work too. We’re obviously both feeling like there’s too much on our shoulders.”
Comments like these help position you and your partner side-by-side, facing the problem that’s out there (rather than facing each other and arguing).
7. Consider compromise
If you prioritize your relationship above any one persons needs, then compromising will be an important strategy. If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense to expect two unique humans to agree on everything, right? But you need to find a way to create harmony and happiness in your relationship. Part of doing that means that you can’t always get exactly what you want at the expense of your partner getting what they want (again, I don’t mean crossing your own boundaries here).
Search for places that you’re willing to loosen up, let go, worry less. If something matters a lot to them, and just a little to you, then maybe that’s the place for wiggle room?
If you can get in the mindset that you, as a couple, as a team, can’t function that well if you are only focused on your individual needs, then you’ll be off to a good start.
8. Express love + kindness
Did you know that anger and love can co-exist? Yup, they sure can. And when you can tap into this skill, the way you argue with your partner will completely transform.
Imagine being filled with anger about a certain issue, but keeping sight of your love and respect for your partner? Imagine being able to communicate your anger without saying hurtful things or damaging your connection?
Try adding love and kindness to your arguments little by little. Phrases like, “I love you AND I am so mad“, or “I love you and I really feel hurt, and don’t want to talk right now” work well. Even statements like “I am really angry, but I know that we will figure this out because we love each other” help both of you acknowledge the problem and at the same time, stay connected.
This takes practice, that’s for sure, but it sure feels amazing to be able to hold all these emotions during an argument, and even enhance the connection to one another once you’re through the fight!
10. Take responsibility where you can
There’s almost always something that you are responsible for during an argument, even when your partner is clearly at “fault.” You can take responsibility for your tone, you willingness to work on the problem, your way of communicating. See if you can take even a little bit of responsibility when you’re arguing, because it’s can disarm your partner’s defensiveness. In a way, they’ll feel like you aren’t actually attacking them, and instead, you’re willing to work together to sort this out.
Once a person feels like they aren’t attacked, they can let their guard down little by little. Only then can productive conversations take place.
11. Keep Private
You don’t always have to express everything you’re feeling, and in fact, you shouldn’t! Can you imagine the damage if your thoughts just flowed right into words? You are allowed to have private inner dialogue and private thoughts. Give yourself permission to sensor yourself and be thoughtful with what you put into words. Because once you do, you can’t take them back!
Make sure to grab the free communication mistakes checklist by clicking the image below, or check out the post about the most common mistakes couples make!
And as always, leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to add to the conversation!
All my best,