I've heard many of my clients state that, "If I have to work at it, then it's not the right relationship."
Ideally, we all want positive, tranquil, mature, relatively stress-free relationships, but when emotions get the better of us, sometimes we turn into the little two, six or fifteen-year-old child within. You can just imagine what it's like when two six -year-olds have a fight about adult issues.
But arguments, conflicts and fights don't necessarily mean that the love between the two of you is lost or that the relationship is ruined. Even when two people genuinely love each other and want to be together for the rest of their lives, conflicts will inevitably arise. And if handled badly, these conflicts can undermine relationship happiness and intimacy, and can result in long-simmering feuds or ended relationships. If handled appropriately, conflicts can actually strengthen relationships and improve your understanding, appreciation and love for each other.
Here are some insights for arguing and fighting in a style that is more constructive than destructive.
1. Bring out everything in the open...
Many of us are frequently led into destructive interactions by the need for denying, or avoiding many kinds of human behavior which society and tradition label as "bad" -- disagreeing, arguing, showing anger etc. But just trying harder to get along ignoring the conflicts and differences in your relationship will not save your relationship let alone make it a happy, satisfying and healthy relationship.
If there are resentments and unsettled issues, or anything that needs attention, be the one to ask for a serious conversation to talk about the relationship and what's going on.
2. Make sure you understand the other person...
Time and again things get blown out of proportion and relationships dashed because one person heard something that the other didn't even say or mean.
Don't assume anything -- always ask the other person for clarification and give feedback to ensure you understand what he or she has said. You might find that he or she has a valid reason for behaving in a way that hurt your feelings. When you understand what the other person is really saying, you'll find it easier to stop yourself from reacting impulsively. You'll also be more open to several ways of seeing the situation which makes it easier for the two of you to can come up with multiple ways of solving the problem.
3. Admit when you are wrong...
Sometimes the hardest part about walking our talk is realizing that we are actually exhibiting the very behaviors we dislike in others. But instead of admitting our own imperfections, we refuse to back down out of pure pride and stubbornness, and as a result find ourselves in a prolonged argument that isn't even worth it.
Say sorry when you're wrong or better yet, go the extra
mile and actually utter the word "wrong" by saying something like, "I was wrong about.../it was wrong of me to... etc. Just make sure the apology isn't an insincere, disingenuous, deceptive or manipulative damage-control ploy. Most people can see through insincere apologies.
4. Leave the past in the past...
One small argument can remind us an unresolved past argument or fight, and when that happens, we get even more upset or our hurt increases.
No matter what you are arguing about, do not bring up irrelevant
left-overs from the past that should have been forgotten. Respond (appropriately) to what is happening in the moment -- in the now.
5. Don't make every minute detail into a crisis...
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Making a big fuss over everything in life is a sign of serious emotional immaturity.
If you find yourself starting to get really "excited" at the prospect of pissing your partner off (for entertainment value or payback) ask yourself if it's really worth it. I know this may be tough one for crisis junkies who like to stir things up just for the adrenaline buzz. It is not healthy for you to always seek conflict just for being in the center of things or just because you want some attention, in the end you end up alone, angry and miserable. Pull-ease, dial down the crazy antics.
6. Fight with the aim to resolve the issue...
Any fool can criticize, complain, condemn -- and most fools do. Smart people on the other hand, carefully look at all the possible approaches, outcomes and even exit strategies before they begin a "discussion" which may or may not end in fight.
If you have to argue or fight, make sure the heated discussion will be worth it and that something will change in the relationship as a result of the discussion. Your goal should not be "emotional release" but finding a mutually acceptable resolution. It is easy to tell when resolution has been reached - you'll feel closer and want to give your partner a hug.
7. Choose your battles carefully...
If you always notice the things that annoy you; or if you focus on what you think your partner is not doing right; or meddle in things that are not your business/you cannot do anything about; or if you feel the need to always win an argument, you'll find yourself obsessed (and even drive yourself crazy) with those particular annoyances and behaviours.
You'll be far more effective in "winning" those battles that are truly important by choosing to challenge only those issues that are truly and personally offensive to your values, beliefs and person. Your opinions and disagreement will bear more weight when what you fight over is really important.
8. Agree to disagree...
You and your partner do not always have to agree. On some issues, you will have to give in. On other issues, you will have to ask him or her to do something that will make your own life easier or your responsibilities more manageable.
If you want your man or woman to do something and he or she is somewhat hesitant, ask him or her to try it for a limited time, such as a week, and then evaluate the situation. This will make him or her feel that he or she is not locked into a decision. When someone has some wiggle room, he or she is usually are more willing to try something even if he or she hasn't bought in to it 100%.
9. Try not to bring up important discussions or make important decisions while you are upset...
There are times when you must immediately bring up an issue that is likely to lead to a heated discussion, but you often do not have to.
If you are feeling very upset or discouraged, talk things over with others -- a friend, family member or professional (counsellor, coach, mentor, spiritual leader etc). Someone not directly involved can bring a calmer perspective to the situation as well as new ideas, and can help you in dealing with the challenges that you face.
Don't bring in others (family, friends, etc.) to gang up on your partner.
10. Let your partner make as many of his or her choices and decisions as possible...
Most decision you make as a couple and some decisions you make as individuals with the other's best interest at heart. If you insist on always making all the decisions, you undermine your partner's feelings of control, which in turn interferes with his or her ability to deal with other aspects of the relationship.
You're both adults, so get off your high horse, shut up and let your partner make his or her own choices and decisions - even if they are not the same choices or decisions you would make. And don't be sitting there waiting to say, "I told you so, stupid!", instead listen, give support and gentle advice.
11. Talk about your feelings, not your partner's behaviours...
Tell your partner how you feel and not what you think they did wrong or should do right. Avoid attacking the other person's character or areas of personal sensitivity or using language that may be perceived as blaming or insulting. If you stick with "I" statements, rather than "you" statements, your partner won't feel criticized and will be far more likely to empathize with you. Doing this creates a safe dialogue.
12. Be the adult...
If your partner says something that hurts you, don't refuse to talk for days. Silent treatment is one of those things we did when we were kids and is so "old" when you are an adult.
Last but most important, there are no "perfect" relationships. They only exist in movies. If you are always fighting, arguing or bickering for your fantasy of a "perfect' relationship, you'll spend most of your life fighting, arguing and bickering -- and will most likely end up alone, bitter and miserable.