Conflict, confrontation, arguments! When do we ever win them?
Why is it so difficult to disagree with others and come out feeling
good about it? Why do we hate to be in the hot seat? Why does
fighting with someone else make us feel so rotten? Maurice and
Joan found themselves talking less and less to each other after
their retirement. Formerly satisfied with their marriage when
both had active careers, now they avoiding talking about things
that upset them because they ended up fighting over the smallest
things. The retirement years that they had long waited for were
turning into a nightmare because of conflict. They were caught
in a continual struggle for power and control resulting in an
guerrilla style of fighting.
happen when we feel threatened about something that is important
to us. Otherwise with the painfulness of conflict, we would
be willing to let go of the issue. Some of our values, attitudes
or possessions are challenged making us feel that our basic
self esteem is threatened. We take a defensive stand and come
out swinging. Unfortunately few of us know how to fight in a
productive way. We have learned rules for fighting from those
people who did not know how to express themselves in constructive
ways--our parents. When we are challenged, we often revert back
to our little child self, hurt and angry. We simply perpetuate
poor communication habits because we do not know how to do anything
Research and family systems theory to the rescue! Here is what
current psychology has to say about approaching the tricky problem
of getting what you want without beating up yourself and your
mate. Here are some ideas that will help you reduce heated arguments
and stay on the track of figuring out what will be the best
for both of you. Here are some rules for fair fighting.
let things fester inside. Anger must be expressed or it will
build up. Schedule arguments ahead of time when you feel the
pressure building up. Agree before hand that there are some
things that you can disagree on (opinions on politics, personal
interests and beliefs.) Other things must be worked through
(how to raise the children, spend money, how you would like
to be treated, etc..) Determine which category your topic falls
a time when you will not be distracted by family members, guests
or television and when you both are relatively relaxed. Sit
face to face and keep eye contact at the same level. Make a
contract to discuss the issue of concern only and agree to avoid
those ways of acting that sabotage problem solving. Make a commitment
to use the rules of fair fighting.
what is going on to the best of your ability. Talk feelings.
Tell the person how you feel about what is going on. Feeling
first, solutions later. Get your point across in a constructive
way by owning how you feel about the topic. Use the formula
sentence, When you _____, I feel ____ . This simple statement
allows you to take responsibility for your own feelings and
behavior without blaming the other person.
to use this feeling statement to express your emotions helps
you stay in the present and keeps you real. Practice this sentence
over and over in times when you are not angry so that it becomes
part of your vocabulary. Sharing of feelings increases intimacy.
Avoid sentences that begin with You always.... Don't tell the
other person what they always do in a blaming way, but focus
on what you want to have happen. Keep coming back to the I feel
formula that helps you own your own feelings. Talk feelings,
talk feelings, talk feelings!
the other person's feelings to come out. Do not discount the
other person's feelings by saying, You should not feel that
way. All feelings of anger, disgust, jealously, despair, etc.
are human and need to be expressed. Bottled up feelings that
are uncomfortable will only serve to make the problem worse
as resentment and bitterness increase.
the other person that you really heard what he or she said.
Repeat back what the other person just said. Say I heard that
you said ______ and what I feel about that is __________. Listen
for the feelings of hurt and threat behind their statements.
Ask the other person for clarification if you do not understand
what they are saying.
turns talking. No monologues allowed. You should be able to
make your point in less than a minute or two. Any longer turns
into a lecture and You always or you should ____ which are blaming
statements. Make sure the other person is listening. Only one
person should speak at a time. Healthy conversation is like
playing toss and catch. One person speaks and one person listens.
Go back and forth with the conversational ball. Take turns talking.
to the topic. Do not bring in other sore issues. Agree to discuss
the pertinent topic only saying, We are discussing______, not
________ Watch for ways you get off the track. Keep coming back
to the issue under discussion.
using techniques that turn up the heat and move you both away
from problem solving. Blaming, name calling, threatening, foul
language and sarcasm decrease intimacy. Young children believe
what they hear their parents saying. They are devastated when
they overhear these forms of verbal abuse. These ways of communicating
cut down on the possibility of your getting what you want out
of the argument.
blame statements and name calling. No problem is ever solved
by telling the other person how bad they are. Name calling causes
the person to revert back to their behavior and feelings they
had as a little child when their parents scolded them. It either
renders them helpless or makes them more angry. Name calling,
criticism and blaming only perpetuate the problem.
use of cursing. Cursing adds negative energy to the confrontation
placing the other person in danger of feeling shame. Cuss words
are like waving a red flag at a bull and increase the heat of
the argument. Know that your use of cuss works only shuts the
other person down and that they feel the need to defend themselves
make empty threats. Do not threaten to leave the relationship
or order the other person to get out unless you really mean
it. Threatening to break up the relationship only brings up
more fear and defensiveness in the other person.
statements of sarcasm. Sarcasm is a learned habit of moving
away from problem solving. Sarcasm is a form of dishonesty as
you say one thing but mean another. It is a technique of distraction
moving away from the issue at hand.
for ways you withdraw from the argument. Withdrawal from conflict
is one of the most common reasons for causing a relationship
to fail. Nothing is ever solved by leaving the issue hanging
and both partners are left in feelings of hopelessness due to
lack of closure.
pattern is that men withdrawal and women push for more discussion.
Another typical pattern is that women become compliant. They
do not carry the topic through to closure but give up because
feelings of helplessness and what's the use creep in.
breathing breaks, or set a timer for every two or three minutes
for a breathing break. During this time do not think of the
argument and what you want to say. Think of being calm and relaxed.
Say to yourself I respect my partner and his or her opinions.
I respect myself and my opinions. When you start to become confused
or upset, breathe deeply from your diaphragm to bring in more
energy and stay centered.
your need to be right and win. Remember the quote from The Course
In Miracles, Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy.
Tell the other person what you do want. Remember that you won't
always get it but you need to express what you feel is best
for you. Keep coming back to what you want but be ready to compromise.
Stand firm only on those decisions which compromise your integrity
as a person.
compromises. Stop investing in winning and using power plays
and figure out what is really important to you. Tell the other
person what you will give up if they give up something of value
to them. Keep the negotiation open. Stop every five minutes
to sum up what you do agree on and note where the disagreements
if necessary. Remind yourself and your partner about the importance
of fighting fairly. See how you respond and cope when you feel
your patterns of coping with conflict by becoming compliant,
using blame or withdrawing. Observe how you go for the jugular
vein of the other person in attempts to get your way. Note how
you are willing to attack your partner's vulnerable areas and
make the conscious choice to stop doing this. Challenge yourself
to change your own pattern of dysfunctional communication. When
you slip off into changing the topic, name calling, sarcasm,
withdrawal or compliance, state it to you partner, Look, I found
myself doing _____. Make a commitment to break the dysfunctional
pattern and stick to the positive ways of communicating. Keep
coming back to the topic. Bring conflict back to the expressing
of feelings level and willingness to negotiate.
the basic rules for staying clean while you disagree with someone.
Now go to your corners and come out fighting! Fair fighting
sessions with your partner to learn these stick to the topic
and fight fair rules. Practice on topics that are not highly
emotionally involved for both of you. Focus on improving your
communication style instead of trying to win fights. Remember
you, like everyone else, have had years of practice in the ways
of dysfunctional communication. Keep asking yourself, Do I want
to increase intimacy with my partner or do I want to win? What
do I really want? Put your energy into problem solving at all
times. Put your energy into learning about yourself and your
discussion is over, evaluate yourself on how you did. Don't
be a critical judge about your performance. Remember that you
are learning new ways of acting. Be gentle with yourself. Give
yourself credit for every time you remembered to fight fair.
Make a contract with yourself on areas that you still need to
change. Learning to fight fair is about self responsibility!
hear your parents speak through your voice when you are upset,
you may be projecting your parents style of fighting on your
mate. Projection is a style of slipping back into the past because
of unresolved childhood issues. When you project, you confuse
unresolved anger felt at your parents with your mate. There
are techniques of hypnosis that can help you break projecting
your anger at your parent on your current partner. If you have
difficulty following these rules and your anger is highly irrational
or so highly threatened by conflict that you avoid it at any
costs, then you are operating out of the dictates of the unconscious
mind. If applying these fair fighting techniques on your own
does not work, then you may need some professional help to help
you break old behavior patterns that stem from childhood.
research shows that couples break up because they do not know
how to resolve their differences through communication. Hostility
only breeds more hostility. Venting the negative emotions may
clear the air temporarily, but it does not solve the underlying
problem and serves to make it worse. Backing away from the conflict
and ignoring it only sends each partner into secretiveness,
withdraw and isolation. The message becomes clear--the couple
that fights together stays together happily only if they use
the techniques of conflict resolution.
an observer of yourself during times of confrontation can give
you realms of information about your defensiveness. Defensiveness
is only a signal that you need to learn about how you protect
yourself when you are threatened. You can learn about yourself
and your patterns of coping with threat and ways to stay present
and centered during disagreements. Bringing a problem to resolution
and closure through continued discussion and compromise is an
honorable act as it shows respect for the needs of both partners.
Learning to fight fair and keep communication open can be an
opportunity for growth for you as an individual and can increase
the intimacy between you and your partner.
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