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How to Fight Healthy in a Relationship

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How to Fight Healthy in a Relationship

Relationships take work. Even the most compatible couples will inevitably face conflicts and disagreements. Learning to fight fair and resolve issues in a constructive way is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship over the long term.

This article will provide research-backed strategies on how to have productive disagreements that bring you closer instead of tearing you apart.

Why Couples Fight – It’s Normal

Fighting with your significant other is completely normal. In fact, it would be more concerning if you never fought! Disagreements arise for many reasons:

  • Differences in personality or communication styles – One partner may be more outspoken while the other avoids confrontation. These differences can lead to misinterpretations.
  • Stress spilling over – External stressors like jobs, family, or finances may heighten emotions.
  • Unmet needs and expectations – Partners may have differing love languages or ideas about the relationship. When these needs aren’t voiced or go unfulfilled, resentment builds.

Researchers have found that what matters most is how a couple fights, not how much or how often. Constructive conflict can increase intimacy and understanding. The key is fighting fair.

Fight Fair Guidelines

Fighting dirty often involves personal attacks and criticism. This puts your partner on the defensive, making resolution unlikely. Set some ground rules to keep disagreements thoughtful and solution-focused. Useful guidelines include:

1. Choose the Right Time and Place

Avoid having difficult conversations when emotions are already high or time is limited. Make sure you both can give the discussion the attention it deserves. If an argument starts organically, table it if needed until you can regroup in a better headspace.

2. Use “I” Statements

Discuss how certain actions make you feel using “I” language. Saying “you always leave your dishes around” will immediately make someone defensive. Instead, frame statements around your own emotions: “I feel frustrated when dirty dishes are left out because I value a tidy home.”

3. Listen Without Interrupting

Fighting often stems from both parties feeling unheard. Practice active listening by letting your partner finish their point before responding. Ask clarifying questions instead of making assumptions. Avoid thinking about your counterpoint while they’re still speaking.

4. Validate Each Other’s Perspectives

You don’t have to agree to still validate your partner’s outlook as legitimate, even if it’s different from your own. Phrases like “I understand why you see it that way” help diffuse tension. Finding common ground is also useful: “You’re right, we do prioritize finances differently. Let’s figure out why.”

5. If Things Get Heated, Press Pause

If you find yourself shouting, making character attacks, or unable to listen, it’s best to temporarily calm down. Say something like “I feel too upset to discuss this calmly. Let’s take 20 minutes and revisit the issue once we cool off.” This avoids escalation.

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Fighting Fairly in Action

Putting fighting fair principles into practice admittedly requires work, as it may necessitate changing ingrained communication habits. Here’s an example outlining an argument done the unhealthy way versus the healthy way:

The Unhealthy Fight

Samantha comes home to find the kitchen a mess after James agreed to clean up. She’s already stressed about an impending work deadline:

  • Samantha (yelling): “I can’t believe you left all your crap around AGAIN! Obviously you don’t care at all about pulling your weight around here.” (character attack)
  • James (defensively): “You’re one to talk – when’s the last time YOU cleaned without me asking? And don’t act like you don’t leave stuff out too!” (counter-attack, deflection)
  • Samantha: “Ugh, typical…you’re impossible, forget it!” (contempt, disengagement)

In this interaction, both partners feel attacked and unappreciated. The root problems around chore division and work stress go unresolved. These feelings will continue to fester and damage the relationship if left unaddressed.

The Healthy Fight

Let’s reimagine the scenario utilizing constructive fighting principles:

Samantha (calmly): “James, I felt worried and overwhelmed when I saw the kitchen wasn’t cleaned up. I’m on deadline for work and really need help keeping shared spaces tidy right now. Is there a reason it didn’t get done?” (uses “I” statement, doesn’t characterize intent)

James: “You’re right, I got caught up with some things and didn’t prioritize the kitchen like I agreed to. I should have communicated that better. Of course I want to pull my weight here, but I didn’t realize how stressed things are with your deadline.” (validates her feelings, takes responsibility)

Samantha: “Thanks for understanding. Maybe we need a clearer system for dividing chores. And I likely overreacted because the work deadline has me on edge.” (finds common ground, self-reflects)

James: “Let’s talk tonight when we’ve both had some time to think. I think we can figure out a better plan.” (pauses discussion, makes tentative plan)

In this improved version, both partners utilize fighting fair skills like listening, validation, and self-reflection to have a thoughtful discussion where neither person feels attacked. The root disagreements around chore division and external stressors are named, but handled in a solutions-oriented manner.

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Communication Patterns That Damage Relationships

Falling into certain negative communication patterns during conflict can start a self-perpetuating cycle that ultimately damages intimate bonds. Understanding these unhealthy dynamics is the first step to avoiding them with your partner.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling happens when one partner completely shuts down emotionally during a fight. They may refuse to respond, make eye contact, or physically leave the room. This withdrawal communicates contempt and an unwillingness to work through issues.

Stonewalling triggers feelings of rejection and intimidation in the other partner, almost always escalating the conflict. Research by marriage expert Dr. John Gottman found that stonewalling during conflict was one of the strongest predictors of future divorce.

The Blame Game

The blame game happens when couples get stuck in a back and forth over who is really at fault. This may sound like: “Well if you hadn’t said that, I never would have…” or “This all started because you always…” Finger-pointing like this simply increases defensiveness.

Accept responsibility for missteps, even if unintended, and steer focus toward cooperative problem-solving around underlying issues instead of deciding who’s right.

Contempt

Contempt, which often involves sarcasm, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, or character attacks, communicates disgust and a lack of respect for your partner. Research shows that even a look of contempt leads to a cascade of physiological stress reactions – like spiking blood pressure and heart rate.

Once contempt enters a relationship, it becomes deeply toxic and difficult to repair. Combat this by intentionally shifting negative thoughts about your partner’s character and finding constructive ways to voice criticism.

Strategies for Resolving Conflict

Disagreements are inevitable, but how you work through them makes all the difference. Implement the following strategies to reach constructive solutions and avoid future arguments over the same unresolved issues.

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Seek Compromise

Compromising involves finding middle ground – a solution both people can accept, even if it’s not perfect. Research analysis has found compromise to be the most effective conflict resolution strategy for maintaining intimacy in relationships long-term.

Open a negotiation around things you can both give and take on. Compromise requires letting go of the need to be right in favor of finding an arrangement that honors both partners’ needs.

Take a Solutions-Focused Approach

Rather than rehashing “he said, she said” details about the conflict itself, identify underlying needs and work outward toward an actionable solution. Issues often arise from differing priorities or unspoken expectations, not malicious intent.

Focus the conversation around understanding each person’s experience. Then explore potential changes or agreements to address every party’s core concerns moving forward.

Seek Outside Help When Needed

If arguments become repetitive or excessively draining, don’t hesitate to enlist help. All relationships go through hard times. Seeing a couples’ therapist provides tools to communicate through differences in constructive ways. Having an impartial third party mediate disagreements is invaluable for some.

For less serious issues, simply talking through problems with a trusted friend or mentor can also provide useful reality checks and techniques to try at home.

Healthy Conflict Prevents Resentment & Strengthens Bonds

Left unresolved, the small grievances and annoyances that every couple experiences can transform into major rifts filled with hostility and contempt. Minor issues then become seemingly impossible to overcome.

This underscores the importance of airing issues openly from the start – ideally before negative feelings have a chance to fester and grow. Embracing conflict done constructively, in fact, leads to deeper understanding and emotional intimacy.

So don’t shy away from productive disagreements with your partner. And forget trite conventional wisdom like “never go to bed angry.” Forcing resolution when emotions are inflamed rarely ends well.

Instead, commit to timely conversations where you both feel sufficiently heard and respected. With these fair fighting fundamentals as your guide, you’ll transform even the most difficult discussions into opportunities to solidify your bond.

Also Read: What is a Happy Ending in a Relationship?

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