Why do we fight the most with the ones we love the most? Unfortunately, the persons that are closest to us, we see them every day and they know our triggers. Every one of us brings a lot to the table that contributes to the degree of conflict we experience with a partner, including our early attachment patterns, psychological defences, and critical inner voices about ourselves and others. That is why the key to getting along with our partner is rarely as simple as it sounds. However, the good news is we have a lot of power when it comes to making things better.
We would fight every day literally. It could be about something real or it could be something very simple, in fact, I would be quiet and my partner would ask why are you so quiet? I would answer by telling her that it is nothing and she would insist that it has been something and then the mood would change and so the fights with your partner continues.
You may think that your situation is irreversible but if both persons are committed to what is necessary for getting over the hump of fighting then read on:
DON’T DWELL – A study from researchers at the University of California Berkeley and Northwestern University found that “the length of time each member of a couple spent being upset [when in conflict] was strongly correlated with their long-term marital happiness.” I had to steal this as it is absolutely correct. We do like to ruminate in our feelings of being enraged, it is about who is right and who is wrong and this may go as far back as when we were kids, our attachment style doesn’t allow us to move on from conflict easily, you need an apology and so you build a case against your partner, the next conversation you are going to let them know that they were wrong! The feeling is familiar and we feel safe keeping a distance, but in the long run, it can hurt the relationship.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH – One of the most beneficial things to do is to be deliberate with relaxing or calming down. It has happened to most of us at some point in our lives, after the fight, we become more rational and regretful. We would criticize ourselves for saying things that we otherwise would not have said if we were calm, then we would hold the other person responsible for things we said. If we can get ahold of ourselves in that moment of intensity, take a walk or even just a few deep breaths, we can gain some perspective and return to a more rational state of mind. We can remain in the moment, rather than trailing off into our heads, and choose how we want to respond with more awareness and sensitivity to our partner and others.
THINK – This little piece of advice is very useful but is probably one of the hardest things to do when you are in the heat of the moment. Taking a pause has to be practised, do it as often as you can and when you are caught in a situation it will take over. You should recognise what is happening, respond by saying I am a little confuse to respond if there is something to say, be in the moment with your feelings and manage your reaction, do not allow your emotions to dictate what is happening around you. This simple approach allows us to be present and curious toward ourselves and our reactions without letting these reactions take over. In a moment of conflict, we can use this mindfulness exercise to feel calmer and reconnect to ourselves, investigating our reactions but without judgment.
BE RECEPTIVE – When our minds detect conflict the fight or flight feeling is triggered and our first reaction is to be defensive. When we work on tuning in and calming ourselves down, we can then extend a more curious and compassionate attitude toward our partner. Instead of being focused on defending, reacting, or counterattacking, we can listen and attempt to understand the other person. We see it all around us, and so it is a learnt reaction, however, if we are able to listen to what our partner is saying, to try and understand what they are feeling in the moment instead of getting defensive then that narrative can change in an instant. “For ‘full’ emotional communication, one person needs to allow his/her state of mind to be influenced by that of the other.”
YOUR INNER VOICE – We may not be aware but we all have a critical inner voice, this is probably why we get defensive when we expect conflict. This “voice” represents a pattern of negative thoughts and distorted ideas we developed about ourselves and others based on hurtful experiences from our early lives. As we grow up, we may expect relationships to mirror those of our past and project our “voices” onto others, especially those closest to us. If you are able to quiet that voice in your head then your conversations would be about the issue and not about unresolved feelings that we harbour from we were children. We distort our partner’s point of view to fit with an old image of ourselves, and we react accordingly. That is why to really break a destructive, argumentative cycle, we have to challenge our critical inner voice.
PUT DOWN YOUR SWORD FIRST – The idea is that when couples have tension between them, perhaps from not communicating successfully or directly, they start to build resentments toward each other, which often reach a tipping point. An argument begins, then escalates based on an overflow of pent-up frustration and flawed communication. Heated moments are, however, the worst times to try to solve problems or make our points heard.” By putting our sword down first we are saying, “I care more about being close than winning this argument,” we express a vulnerability that often softens our partner and allows them to feel for us and then they will put their sword down too. We can then have a more effective conversation about any real issues in a less intense moment when we both feel safe.
DOING THE RIGHT THING – Getting angry is okay, what you do when you are angry is what can be the result of broken relationships, divorce, unhappy employees, family dramas. Walking away or refusing to retaliate doesn’t mean we are weak, and it certainly doesn’t mean we are burying our feelings or denying them. There are healthy avenues for expressing anger or sadness but also exploring these emotions to understand where they may come from and what they may mean. Emotions offer us clues into who we are. However, in the middle of a fight, we rarely take the time to sort through and recognize our emotions much less express them in ways that are adaptive or helpful. It’s best to choose our actions, so they align with who we want to be. But we should certainly be curious and accepting of our emotions.
SAY WHAT YOU WANT – It is said that 7% of communication is words and talk, intonation (38%) and body language (55%) are responsible for the rest of how we communicate with each other. You can say what you need to say without shouting and beating your chest.
We all experience these types of reactions, and unfortunately, these maladaptive emotional responses don’t get us closer to what we want. However, as Greenberg has suggested, if we can tap into our primary emotion and express the more vulnerable want or need behind it, we show much more vulnerability to our partner. We can communicate that “we want to feel loved or seen for who we are.” Our partner then has an opportunity to know us better and feel for us.
The fights will happen, but always remember that your relationship is more important than being right.