By Sean Grover
Years ago, I worked with married couple who never tired of yelling at each other. In fact, their full-throated shouting matches became legendary at the psychotherapy institute I worked at and earned me many complaints from my neighbors. Week after week, they tore into each other with such ferocity that I felt certain furniture would start flying at any moment. Yet at the end of the session, they’d write me a check, thank me and depart with smiles on their faces.
Sounds wacky? It was. But here’s the clincher: To this day, they’re happily married. In fact, they’re a great couple. They run their own business, raise two wonderful children, lead fulfilling social lives, and they still have great sex!
Why did their fighting enhance their relationship rather than damage it? The answer is very simple: They knew how to argue. Their skirmishes somehow brought them closer and encouraged greater intimacy. The difference between their fights and another couple’s was that they never resorted to insults and personal attacks, and of course, that they weren’t holding their feelings in. In fact, their weekly argument in my office enhanced and strengthened every aspect of their relationship.
The Wrong Way to Fight
Before we get into what it means to have a good clean fight with your partner, let’s examine some classic mistakes you can avoid when brawling.
Attacking Each Other
No matter how angry you are, never attack your partner’s character. Remember, you already know his or her short comings and love them anyway, therefore, name-calling, labeling, or using sensitive personal information against your partner is bound to end in disaster. When frustrated, refrain from attacks and lead with a positive feeling. For instance, “I love you, but when you keep interrupting me, it infuriates me.” The positive feeling reminds your partner that even though you’re angry, you still value your relationship above any issue that might be bothering you.
Wanting to Win
Sadly, many couples compete with each other. Each partner strives to “win” arguments or convert their partner to their point of view. In their mind, there must always be a winner and a loser in every disagreement. The reality is that it’s a losing game for everyone. Wanting to win arguments increases tension and conflict, brings on hurt feelings and creates further misunderstandings, and makes people say things that they’ll later regret. Winning an argument is the always a booby prize because it’s driven by arrogance and comes at the cost of your partner’s feelings.
Saying Too Much
If your partner opens with the line “I’m going to be honest with you…,” brace yourself; there’s trouble coming. Honesty without kindness or love is brutality. Too many couples injure their relationship in the name of honesty. It is important to take a moment and consider if what you have to say will help or hurt and really contribute to the point you may be trying to impart. For example, if you’re upset with your partner, or enraged and deeply hurt by something they’ve done, rather than react impulsively, take some time, think your feelings through or chat with a close friend. Gain perspective before acting. Reacting hastily, without mindful consideration, is a gamble that’s likely to do more harm than good.
People who avoid conflicts or don’t voice their discontent to their partner tend to store up a lot of tension. As a result, they’re more likely to suffer psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, backaches, insomnia or lack of sex drive. Others swallow their frustrations and let them simmer until they blow up in angry rages. And by then, the argument that ensues is hardly ever about the matter at hand. Neither choice is effective. Better to speak up, address conflicts thoughtfully and work to resolve them together. And if you can wait until your anger has subsided so you can express yourself clearly and calmly, even better. If you don’t voice your feelings, you’ll just grow more resentful and unforgiving of your partner.
Fighting Under Stressful Conditions
There are times when arguing should be avoided at all costs. These times include when you or your partner is sick, exhausted, intoxicated, excessively hungry or recovering from an injury or trauma. These conditions magnify and intensively feelings and irritability. When you don’t have your wits about you, it’s a terrible time to discuss difficult or sensitive subjects.
How to Fight Better
Here are a few things to keep in mind next time your feel a brawl coming on.
Agree to Disagree
No couple agrees all the time; things would be quite boring if everyone was agreeable in order to avoid conflict. That’s a sure indication that one, or both partners, are not expressing their real opinions and feelings. A partner without a backbone is very unattractive. Healthy couples tolerate and value their diverse opinions and experiences. Next time you’re arguing, stay levelheaded and keep your sense of humor. Admire your partner’s strength and spirit. Don’t be stubborn, keep an open mind, and try your best to take the high road. You’ll both win in the end.
Hit the Pause Button
When an argument is heating up, it’s a good idea to take a break. Stop talking, take a walk, and get away from each other. Spend some time alone with your feelings. Assess your choices. Is it really worth fighting about? Are you taking out your stress on your partner? Mindful consideration is an important step toward protecting your relationship from unneeded wear and tear.
Express Your Concerns
Many couples often make the mistake of withholding their fears from each other. They hide their insecurities in an effort to appear strong or protect their partner. This puts a burden on relationships because it restricts rather than enhances communication. Good couples are best friends. Voice your uncertainties and you may just discover your partner shares them as well. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll feel closer to one another.
When it comes down to it, human beings make mistakes. We all screw up now and then. Don’t be hardheaded or stingy about your blunders. As James Taylor sings, “What will you do with your foolish pride when you’re all by yourself alone?” Apologizing may be difficult, but it makes you a bigger person. Chances are you’ll be admired for it. Of course, that doesn’t mean you spend your life saying you’re sorry to your partner. But if you’ve hurt the one you love, it’s important to admit it and allow both of you to move forward without resentment.
From Conflict to Closeness
Why are relationships so challenging? Because they bring up all our anxieties and unmet needs; they rouse our earliest and most primitive fears from their slumber. Doubts, suspicions, trust issues…nothing triggers insecurities like intimacy. A couple that knows how to argue well is guaranteed a long healthy partnership. In the end, you’ll spend less time bickering and more time doing what a loving couple does best: enjoy each other’s company. www.seangrover.com