I don’t want to brag, but I’m a pretty epic fighter. Master manipulator. Stoic stonewaller. Jedi justifier. Couples having a hard time in quarantine? Not me and my man, I’m just too good at fighting to lose.
OK, obviously this isn’t how it works, and it wasn’t working. All his and my poor communication and stubborn pride was doing was helping us disconnect and have the same arguments again and again. It made it to where we could escalate from calm to volatile in record time.
So we’ve gotten good at fighting. Well, better. But just like any fight club, we had to establish some reasonable rules to help us get there. These rules are posted on the kitchen fridge because we tend to spend a lot of time there—both good and bad. There’s not much I love more than cooking with him, so obviously I want to keep that particular area a copacetic place. I want to keep our relationship a copacetic place.
Here’s what has helped us:
Consider automatic thoughts before beginning the conversation
My brain is notoriously mean to me. I’m in therapy to help with this. One night in the kitchen, he joked that he hadn’t thought about what to do for our anniversary that was two weeks away. I didn’t realize he was joking.
I can tell you what my automatic thoughts were because I journaled it.
Here are my automatic thoughts:
*He doesn’t care about me as much as I care about him
*I’m never going to get what I want in this relationship
*I don’t want to be with him
I didn’t do what I should have done next. I didn’t replace these thoughts with new thoughts as I am supposed to. I was still learning at this point.
Here are my new thoughts:
*Maybe it’s a misunderstanding
*You should talk to him
*He values your feelings
If I had reframed my thoughts and made an attempt to gauge reality, I would have talked with him and realized it was simply a joke, he does care about me, and our anniversary was going to be great. Instead, I spent an entire night alone with my resentment.
Don’t bring up fights from the past.
Have you ever felt one issue with your partner was at the front of your mind, only to go deeper to another, or spiral out to something you had already discussed? Don’t. Stay focused.It is difficult to solve one issue in a relationship—don’t make it so that you have added two or three issues to solve in a particular talk. Really identify the one issue at hand and stick with it earnestly. Plus, if you (or your partner) brings out a laundry list of concerns, it is a surefire way to make the other feel attacked.
Conversations don’t go well when we’re automatically on the defense.As you start to follow these rules, you will keep each other in check during a fight. It works really well for us to point out, “Hey, you’re bringing up something from 2 months ago, that’s not what we’re talking about now.” This works because we both have the rules in our mind so the other pointing out we’ve veered brings us back to the right track.
No silent treatment.
This is the absolute hardest for me! Classic me shuts down when upset. By retreating into myself and refusing to exhibit any communication, the concerns stay right with me. They fester and are not solved. They come up again. It is OK to not be ready to discuss something and state you need some time alone and will come back after forming your thoughts. It is not fair to your significant other to have them guess what is going on inside your beautiful head. It is not OK to shut down and be miserable with no communication.If you are keeping everything to yourself because your partner reacts poorly to the expression of your feelings, it is likely a good time to bring in an impartial third-party therapist to help you improve communication.
Pay attention to language choices
In relationships, “I” statements tend to be absorbed better than “You” statements. This is true for our children as well. “You never initiate intimacy.” Is not heard as well as, “I feel insecure when you don’t make an effort to cuddle with me on the couch.”
Clearly, this rule also marks out hurtful name calling and language during a fight. Your partner is already upset right along with you in a time of turmoil. Hurling out a “You’re an idiot.” Isn’t going to result in getting to a good place. Swear words are no exception during an argument; it doesn’t matter if it is directed AT me, just don’t swear. And don’t yell.
When someone lets you down, irritates you, or breaks your heart, the first emotion to surface is often anger. But there is something underneath. Once I shed my cloak of roaring anger, honesty comes forth. It is vulnerable and sad. I speak without yelling but tell my truth. Finally, I feel our discourse gets somewhere.
Everyone is different. I really dislike when my partner walks away when we are not seeing eye-to-eye. Others appreciate time apart while they process their feelings before discussing. He hates if I speak loudly or use hand gestures, so I watch my level of animation (during hard times, that is).
It’s vital to understand where the person you spend so much time with is coming from and what means the most to them. Here’s a download you can print for your own fridge if necessary and concentrate on the rules you feel are most valuable, so you and your partner can work on fighting fairly.
Let’s be great fighters and great lovers.