Have you ever come across a couple who have been together for decades and heard one of them proudly utter the words: “We have never exchanged a cross word!”? Do you look up to them in admiration? Do they set the bar for the ‘perfect’ relationship? Finally, and most importantly, how does this make you feel about your own relationship? I guess for some of us, this could depend on how we manage our own conflicts.
It may or may not come as a surprise to know that arguing is a normal part of being in relationship, and, if managed and worked through well, a healthy part of communicating as a couple.
What are the advantages of arguing?
It’s been said that having an argument helps to clear the air. That’s because healthy arguing can help us to address conflict, rather than keep it bottled up, so long as this is done in a non-damaging way.
Are there any disadvantages?
Of course, there are disadvantages to conflict if it is done in damaging ways. Damaging ways of conflict include:
Name calling or “pigging”
For example, “You are useless!”. This is a direct attack on the core self of the other person. It can be utterly shaming.
Running away / walking out
If this is done without explanation or telling the other that you are going to return and that you will do this fairly soon, it is effectively deserting the other and will leave them wondering whether or not you are coming back.
What we perceive to be violence can vary. Some believe that violence is limited to physically injuring the other. What we often fail to take into account is the breaking of things, slamming of doors, injury to self such as punching walls, getting up in someone’s face are aggressive behaviours and ways of intimidating the other. All displays of aggression and violence can be frightening to experience and witness, and therefore highly damaging.
This can come in the form of sulking, or refusing to engage in addressing an issue altogether. It is known as the ‘hostile retreat’. It can be frustrating and hurtful to the other person who may be left feeling that the other doesn’t care enough or want to move forward.
Bringing up other ‘stuff’
“…and what about in 1985 when you did…. to me!?” – Sound familiar? When we move away from the issue at hand and start to bring in past deeds, we are either trying to use the past as a weapon or to prove something, but how does that resolve what needs to be resolved in the here and now?
One Thing in Common
In fact, all of the above examples of unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict have one thing in common. They keep us stuck and prevent us from resolving the problem and moving forward.
So, I’m beginning to wonder about that couple who claim they have never spoken a cross word to each other. Does this mean there had never been any conflict or issues that needed addressing? I doubt it. It is possible though that both of their default reaction to conflict was a bit of head burying or the swallowing down of resentments, which is the opposite of healthy. When we swallow down resentments, you can guarantee that it will leak out in some way, shape or form!
9 Rules of Health Fighting Fighting
So now that we’ve looked at some unhealthy ways of working through conflicts and disagreements, what are the rules for healthy conflict? Here’s a short list:
- No name calling or “pigging”
- Take time out if things feel a little heated, but, make sure that you both agree to this and arrange to meet back up to resolve the problem
- No aggression, including physical violence towards the other, breaking of things, punching of things, slamming of doors, etc. etc….
- No running away or walking off – see rule number 2 if you both need some time and space away
- Explain how you feel when… rather than accusing or name calling, e.g. I feel upset when you…
- No ‘hostile retreat’, so no sulking or avoiding addressing the issue. The issue belongs to the relationship and you each have a responsibility in resolving it.
- Stick to the issue. No bringing up the past as a weapon or to add weight to your point. Stick to the here and now.
- Agree to disagree only if this isn’t going to prevent the issue from being resolved. If you simply have a difference of opinion, sometimes it’s useful to let go of the need to be right and respect that you have a different view, so long as it doesn’t impact a decision that is needed, e.g. which school to send a child to.
- Compromise. Is there a place in the middle that you can meet? It may mean that neither one of you will completely get your way, and it may also mean that neither one of you will lose out completely. Sometimes, settling for the next best thing to make sure that you both get some satisfaction rather than none at all, is the best way forward.
So, do you find that you’re having the same arguments over and over? Are you locked in a pattern of conflict that means that it never seems possible to resolve issues in your relationship? Adopting the 9 rules for healthy fighting can help. Couples counselling can also help you to identify problems and patterns, and learn how to adapt and move your relationship on to a more positive place.