Don’t fear conflict.
Conflict can be an opportunity for growth. When you intimately share your life with someone there are going to be disagreements. Conflict is normal, healthy, and necessary when there is something important at stake for one or both of you. It isn’t always easy to do but addressing conflict well or raising a difficult issue sensitively will provide the opportunity to see each other, notice each other and learn from each other.
- Attack the issue, not each other.
Don’t name call or bring the other person down to get on top of the argument. The potential to cause emotional scars is great. It’s too easy to say things that can’t be taken back.
- Stay with the issue at hand.
Don’t bring up old junk just to prove your point. It’s so tempting to confirm your ‘rightness’ by highlighting the other person’s ‘wrongness’, but don’t. It’s the quickest way to send an argument off track and into a place where you forget what you were fighting about.
- Don’t downplay the issue.
For an issue to be an issue it only takes one of you to believe it is. You don’t need to agree but you do need to listen. Let your partner know you’ve heard them and that you understand. People don’t stop feeling a certain way just because they’re told to stop. (Would be nice if it was that simple though!) If an issue is ignored it won’t go away. Needs always push for completion – it’s just the way it is. Don’t withdraw. Or chase.
- Be open about what you need. Nobody can read your mind.
Conflicts in which one person expects another to know what is wrong without being told are more likely to end with anger or negative communication. Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.
- Find the real emotion beneath the anger.
It can be hard not to turn away when someone is angry with you, but anger is a secondary emotion – it never exists on its own and always has another emotion beneath it. The common culprits are sadness, hurt, insecurity, jealousy or frustration. If you can notice the real emotion, you’ll have a better chance of responding to the real issue. Don’t turn your back, look away or pretend you’re doing something important while your partner is spilling himself or herself to you – you might miss something important that clues you in on what’s really going on. Few things deepen a connection more than being seen.
7. Stay away from ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.
Make a generalization and you can bet that what will come next is an explanation of the exception. Use specific examples or if your partner is doing the generalizing, ask for specific examples. Nobody is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything and using these words will just inflame.
8. Fully and honestly accept that nobody is perfect. Seriously. Nobody.
Be open to accepting criticism. Is it the feedback that’s difficult to stomach or the way it’s delivered. Try to hear the message, even if it is being delivered in a way that is hard to hear. If you are the one with the wise words, say it in a way that can be heard by being generous in the delivery. ‘I know you probably didn’t mean it the way it came across but when you …’ or ‘I miss you when we fight. Can we talk about it?’
9. If you’re wrong, apologize.
Be humble. Be honest. Say you're sorry.
10. Find the common ground.
There’s usually something you can find to agree on, even if it’s that you don’t want to fight. ‘So we both agree that …’ Anything that will help to get you both back on the same team is a good thing. It’s also a way to validate your partner and let them know you see them.
Fighting is inevitable and not all healthy couples fight fair all of the time. Doors may get slammed, hurtful things may be said. Having know-how around fighting fair is a powerful thing. It will bring you closer to being able to get what you want and at the same time solidify your relationship. Anything that can bring you through to the other side of an argument still holding hands – or wanting to hold hands – is certainly worth the effort.