If you’re fighting about watching too much TV, not having sex, or not talking/having conversations, chances are your fight is more accurately rooted in feelings of neglect and lack of attention.
Every relationship is vulnerable to fighting. Every. Single. One.
At some point the two of you will have an argument, a disagreement, and not-be-so-nice. It’s inevitable. Some relationships experience it more often than others, but regardless of frequency, it will happen.
Fights can be triggered by a multitude of things. It could be leaving toothpaste spatter on the bathroom mirror, not helping with the kids at bedtime, watching too much TV, not taking out the trash, or something as trivial as leaving the lid off the peanut butter jar.
Stop and think about it – how did you go from toothpaste spatter to yelling at each other? The heart of the question is: What are you really fighting about?
Chances are you’re not specifically fighting about the lid on the peanut butter, the mess in the bathroom, or not helping with dinner. In these circumstances, the real issue could be identified as an overall lack of thoughtfulness, or feeling like you’re having to play care-taker instead of being supported by a partner.
If you’re fighting about watching too much TV, not having sex, or not talking/having conversations, chances are your fight is more accurately rooted in feelings of neglect and lack of attention. If you’re fighting about in-laws, one’s relationship with work, parenting, or money, these can all stem from feelings of being alone, and not being able to trust your companionship.
Arguments are perpetuated because each person thinks their point of view is the right point of view. You want the other person to see your side as right, and understand their side is wrong – and a lot of us are exceptionally good at being stubborn. The solutions that achieve conflict resolution do not generally involve the topic over which you are fighting, but rather the technique used for communication.
At the nucleus of every fight are the following three needs:
We want to feel validated.
We want to feel heard.
We want to feel understood.
By fighting, we want the other person to acknowledge us and realize the value of our perspective, but claiming that your side is right and the other’s is wrong does not promote understanding, appreciation, or validation.
To stop fighting over dirty dishes and acknowledge the core issue you’re arguing over, consider these three points:
Empathy is not sympathy.
Sympathy encompasses feelings of sorrow and pity, whereas empathy means exploring the other person’s point of view, understanding where they’re coming from, and “walking a mile in their shoes.” When you empathize you aren’t analyzing the problem through your perspective, you examine the problem through your partner’s perspective.
You might consider the lid off the peanut butter jar as lack of thoughtfulness, but your partner might only see that they were in a hurry for a big meeting at work and simply forgot. Imagine yourself in their position – they’re stressed and overwhelmed about work. Forgetting to put the lid back on isn’t a reflection of their feelings for you. In fact, it has nothing to do with you at all!
One critical step to help you empathize is…
#2 Reflective Listening
Reflective listening is the best tool to have in your communication arsenal and is applicable to any type of relationship in your life. The basic principle of reflective listening is to repeat what the other person is saying in your own words. You do this in a non-threatening way to show you understand what your partner is trying to convey.
Here are some phrases that can help with reflective listening:
“Let me see if I understand you; you feel…”
“I somehow sense that maybe you feel…”
“It sounds like you feel…”
“I get the impression that you feel…”
These reflective listening phrases help relay messages of validation and understanding. You’re showing your partner you know where they’re coming from. Re-stating their feelings in a safe, non-threatening way gets you away from the toothpaste spatter and closer to identifying the central issue. A key tip: try your hardest not to use any condescending tone when using these and similar phrases. No one wants to feel mocked or that their concerns are trivial.
#3 Knowing When To Stop
Arguments can get intense and it’s easy to get to a place where feelings are hurt. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to say things we don’t mean – we’re human, it happens. The trick is knowing when to stop the fight.
Sometimes stopping the fight can be as little as a 60 second pause where you can both take a deep breath, try to clear your thoughts, and calm down. Sometimes it means going to bed angry. The dynamic of each relationship is unique. For some people they want to figure things out right away, other people need time to think about it, and these feelings must be respected. Sometimes it can be better to “sleep on it” instead of forcing someone into submission for the sake of the argument.
Just because you stopped the fight, however, does not mean the conflict has been resolved. Eventually the issue needs to be addressed. When problems are ignored it can fuel feelings of resentment, anger, defeat, and hatred.
The next time you are in a fight try to identify the core of what you are feeling. Then try to understand what your partner is feeling. Empathize and listen carefully. Realize it’s not about the toothpaste, it’s likely about something bigger and more profound. Don’t discount the other person’s feeling and find the place of common understanding.