Conflict with your significant other is inevitable. The number of arguments you have is not a measure of the quality of your relationship. On the other hand, the manner in which you and your partner fight is an indicator of your relationship’s health.
Continue reading for tips to fight the healthy way in your relationship. Following these rules will result in less intensity in your arguments and more resolution.
Rule #1: Stay in the present
Do not bring up past arguments or mistakes. Avoid using phrases such as “you always…” and “you never…” This absolute language will likely cause your partner to go on the defense rather than listen.
Keep it simple and focus on the problem you are facing right now. Try “I am angry that you are home late from work tonight” instead of “You are never home on time!” Your partner cannot change the past and blaming him or her again for past failures only gets in the way of any future success.
Rule #2: Stick with one topic
Identify and discuss only one specific issue: the center of the conflict. Do not bring in other issues to defend yourself or to attack your partner. If there are other issues you need to discuss, wait until this argument is resolved.
Rule #3: Don’t attack your partner’s character
Do not attack your partner’s personality. Talk about behavior rather than personalities. For example, “It’s hard to keep the kitchen clean when dirty dishes are left in the sink” is much better than “Why did I marry such a slob?” Focusing on behaviors keeps the discussion centered on actions that can actually be changed.
Rule #4: Don’t counterattack
If your spouse initiates a legitimate complaint, do not respond by immediately defending yourself. Accept complaints graciously by taking five seconds to carefully consider your partner may be right. You may have messed up, and if your partner feels safe enough to address a complaint, that means they are invested in your relationship and its improvement. It is okay to have flaws – this makes you human. You just have to be willing to address them.
Rule #5: Take responsibility
Practice humility and admit responsibility for your contribution to the problem. The ability to admit when you are wrong is an essential skill for a healthy relationship. Keep in mind your goal is to learn to resolve conflict, not to win the argument. Taking responsibility diffuses defensiveness and allows you and your partner to focus on resolution.
Rule #6: Avoid mind reading
Don’t attempt to analyze your partner’s motives. For example, don’t say, “I know you came home late again because you want to avoid me and the children.” It would be difficult for anyone to respond positively to this statement. It cuts off the conversation and invites an argument rather than a discussion.
No one has mind reading capabilities, so ask your partner about their motivations rather than assuming the worst.
Rule #7: Establish belt lines
You and your partner need to discuss what kinds of remarks constitute “hitting below the belt”. These would be comments that are too hurtful or damaging for your partner to handle. Avoid these statements at all costs. If your partner is hitting below the belt during a conflict, call him or her on it immediately. These comments will only escalate a fight and lead to feelings of resentment.
Rule #8: Take a break
It is impossible to have a rational conversation when you are emotionally flooded. If you feel your heart racing and you cannot think straight, declare a time-out. Take 20-30 minutes to calm down before you re-enter the conversation. Communicate to your partner where you will be and when you will return.
Rule #9: Call foul when a rule is broken
When one partner breaks a rule, the other should call foul. This is a signal that the ground rules must be reestablished and followed. Likewise, be open to hearing your partner call foul on something you have done or said. When the fight is no longer fair, take a break and try the conversation another time.
Rule #10: Be respectful
Your most intimate relationship is no place for contempt, abuse, or insults. If you believe this is occurring in your relationship and you aren’t sure what to do about it, please do not hesitate to contact one of the couples therapists at Keystone Counseling. They can work with you to help you determine how you can salvage your relationship, or if it needs to come to an end.