Couples who begin therapy typically do so in an attempt to make progress on an existing issue within their relationship, oftentimes something related to communication (or lack thereof!), or arguing (or doing it too frequently!). They come into therapy asking questions like “Do we fight more than we should?”…..”What’s normal?”….”How often do other couples fight?”
Improving communication and reducing arguments are common concerns for many couples, so it’s only natural they are looking for measurable answers to these questions. But the reality is, there is no true benchmark or standard for normalcy in this department! Further, the frequency of fights or arguments are not a reliable guide to marital happiness or relationship bliss. Just as there will always be very strong, well connected couples that clash often and with a regularity, there will also always be those couples who avoid conflict at all costs and successfully avoid fighting….right into a major crisis.
The good news is, there are answers to the questions above, and we’re going to give it to you gently, but straight: It’s not how often fighting occurs, it’s about how you manage the conflict, or how those fights are resolved. In other words, there’s a right way to fight.
Focusing on solvable problems first is the easiest place to start. Sometimes the fighting, bickering and arguing is just noise that’s wrapped around an easily solvable problem. For example, let’s say you find every morning is full of rushing, chaos, and confusion centered on getting out of the house in time. Sure, you can add to that by throwing in a screaming match with your partner and/or kids. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to spend 10 minutes prepping the night before, or set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier in the morning, which will help you avoid the rushing – and the stress!
When things can be resolved in this manner, it’s best to celebrate the win and stick with the plan so as not to return to the original stress filled situation. We can apply similar logic to arguments with our partner, and as a bonus, when we start with easily solvable problems, we’re excited about our results and more likely to continue applying those strategies to other areas.
So, instead of focusing on how often you fight as a couple, think about how fairly you fight. Read on for 10 ways to fight with your partner more productively!
- Pause….before you blurt out something hurtful.
When you’re in the heat of the moment and your emotions are heightened, thinking before you speak is easier said than done! However, taking a pause before you launch into a complaint allows you to frame your grievance more effectively. This quick, mental timeout gives you time to choose a kinder and calmer way to approach the situation. Plus, you’re more likely to be heard as a result. It’s a win-win!
- Speak in “I” phrases, not “you” phrases.
When you say something like “You screwed up”, your partner goes straight to the defensive. Saying “I’m hurt” or “I feel really angry” instead will lead to a more productive dialogue. Most importantly, speak in terms of how you feel while offering potential solutions to try together instead of blaming your partner completely. This will remind you both that you’re in a partnership and need to work together to have a stronger relationship.
- Avoid character assaults.
Unfortunately, it’s all too common for arguments to devolve into personal attacks (think name-calling, criticizing the core of who someone is or how they look)—and that is definitely not healthy for your relationship. Not to mention it is never productive! If you’ve resulted to name-calling, you’ve probably gone too far.
- Focus on the actual issue.
If you’re constantly rehashing old arguments, fighting about the same things over and over with no resolution or compromise, that can become problematic. Plus, this often leads to frustration because we don’t feel like our partner is listening to our concerns or taking them to heart! Here’s a quick tip that will help you reframe AND get your point across…isolating the specific complaint or issue you have. For example, saying, “Of course you didn’t do the dishes again. You’re lazy!” serves only to either put your partner on the defensive or make them retreat or resent you. Instead, try something like, “I feel frustrated when I come home to a sink full of dirty dishes. Can we set up a schedule for our chores so this doesn’t happen again?” Again, compromising helps solve conflicts.
- Listen more and talk less.
When we’re arguing, we have a natural tendency to talk more than we listen. We’re so eager to get our feelings out, we may not even hear what our loved one is trying to express. While it’s important for your dialogue to be a two-way street, a good rule of thumb is that the person who has the issue is the one that needs to be listened to. This means that if your partner comes to you with an issue, rather than immediately defending yourself, just listen, jumping in only to let your partner know that you heard them. Arguments are all too easily fueled when one or both parties don’t feel like they’re being heard. Improving your listening skills improves your chances of having a more productive dialogue instead of a full blowout argument.
- Change what you say and how you say it.
The truth is, many of us are guilty of recycling arguments. So much so that we can almost exactly predict how our partner is going to respond, as if the discussion has been scripted. You’ve probably heard that insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results, and that certainly applies here. If you want to fight better, change what you say—and how you say it. It’s important that you frame your argument with respect and kindness so that you give your loved one a chance to respond in kind.
- Resist the urge to avoid the argument.
It’s actually pretty common for couples to keep their grievances to themselves when they’re mad at each other because they’re scared of starting arguments that could potentially threaten the relationship. We get it – it’s not fun to fight with your partner, but it’s still important to bring your concerns to light. Research has shown that people who talked through conflicts were 10 times more likely to be happy with their relationships. Not surprisingly, those who stayed silent and blamed their partners for the lack of communication were more likely to be unhappy.
- Put yourself in your partner’s shoes.
Take a minute to sincerely try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes by brainstorming reasons why a sensible person might have behaved the way they did. It could help you better understand their actions.
- Don’t threaten to leave your significant other.
It’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you, and we’re all guilty of saying something we didn’t really mean at one time or another. But try as hard as you can to avoid threatening a break up or divorce. Even if you don’t mean it, those words can leave a lasting impact on the person who hears them and can cause them to feel insecure in the relationship long after the fight is over.
- Never resort to physical or emotional abuse.
If a fight with your partner has ever made you feel physically, emotionally, or psychologically unsafe, that’s a major red flag. Couples fighting is healthy only as long as it stays fair and safe.
It’s perfectly normal to experience fighting within your relationship, and when done right, it can only help you grow – both individually and within your relationship. Use these tips to help you fight with your partner more productively! Remember, there is no shame in seeking professional help, either. Oftentimes, a clean pair of eyes can help you see where your communication patterns are going wrong. Even if only one member of the relationship is feeling upset, dissatisfied, or uncomfortable, it’s something that should be explored and addressed by both partners. You’re a team, after all!
If you find that you’re arguing a lot or the two of you can’t seem to get it right, Solid Foundations can help! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!