Rules for Fighting in Relationships
Fighting with your loved ones is NOT the most fun thing in life. In fact, I believe it rates as one of the least fun things, ever. Therefore, figuring out how to make it simpler, easier and less emotionally ravaging would be a good idea, right?
Well, not according to some. People who are stuck in the idea that they can somehow "beat" their significant other in an argument are inevitably going to lose. However, people being people, this sort of thing happens way too often. You are not going to beat someone else and keep on having a decent relationship. You may find a synergistic solution to the problem, you may find that you're incompatible, but you will never and can never "beat" another human being unless you start hitting. That's tacky, illegal, and the surest way to lose your loved one forever, so it's best to give up on the idea in entirety.
The problem a lot of people have is recognizing that the other is a person as well. There's a Celtic riddle that asks "Where is the center of the universe?" The answer is "Right here". Each and every person is the center of each individual universe because each person has his or her own perspective. Besides, if you found someone just like you you'd probably hate him or her beyond reason. Or be bored out of your skull. Why would you want to live with someone just like you when there's nothing new to learn?
Different perspectives mean different priorities, different methods, and different values. Barring actual malice on either side, in which case you need to run anyway, the art of productive arguing involves honestly assessing these differences and finding workable solutions to the tension these differences cause.
Most people are never taught how to resolve conflicts. They're just taught how to fight, which is a surefire relationship killer if there ever was one. For the sake of sanity I've broken it down into a series of don'ts and dos, in that order. Failing to call your loved one nasty names is just as important as believing in his or her right to opinions, after all. Keep reading for the specifics.
Things NOT to Do
Don't fall for that idea that you can let everything out of your mouth around your loved one. Politeness is even more necessary for the people you live with every day than it is out in the public sphere. While yes, you are entitled to a higher level of emotional intimacy with your loved ones, that doesn't mean you have the right to say hateful things to them. Some things can't be unsaid.
Don't call names. Yes, this is a slight reiteration of the point above, but it bears repeating. If you start calling names while fighting, your beloved will always wonder what your opinion of him or her really is. Do you think he is the most wonderful man ever, or do you think he's a bottom feeding slime sucking troglodyte? Do you think she's the best person to ever come into your life, or do you think she's a shrieking, nagging terror? These questions will haunt your beloved long after the fight is over, so don't start. Emotional intimacy is not an excuse for childish brutality. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can scar the soul.
Don't be brutally honest. Brutal honesty isn't. "You look like a whale in that dress,": is brutal honesty. "I'm not fond of it, but if it makes you feel good that's the important thing," is real honesty.
Lose the myth that emotions are irrational. They're perfectly rational. Anger is a secondary reaction to pain. Pain can be immediate or born from fear. Fear is born of memory of pain that happened a while back. Each and every emotional reaction is logical as soon as you understand the motivation. Nobody gets the excuse of "Well, it's emotion, it doesn't have to be logical."
Don't think your beloved can make you happy. He or she has a tall order seeing to his or her own happiness. Take responsibility for your own. Being around your beloved may make you happy, but said beloved has no responsibility to change for you.
Don't sacrifice your needs, wants, and goals to make your partner happy. See the statement above about responsibility. If you try, you'll still fail to create happiness in your beloved AND you'll be miserable besides.
Don't use "You. . " statements. "You never listen to me!" puts somebody on the defensive immediately. People on the defensive are flat out incapable of listening to anything, they're too busy defending themselves.
Don't believe in your unassailable rightness. Remember that your beloved has a perspective and an opinion that are just as valid as yours. If you don't keep an open mind, why are you even arguing? Please note, there are a very few instances that this may not be true, but they usually have to do with a) how you feel and b) practical things you actually have an education in. Nobody has the right to tell you how you feel, ever. If someone tries, stop fighting immediately. Stop the discussion, right there. Say "I think you're trying to tell me how I feel and I don't deal well with that. I'll talk to you when you're ready to listen."
Don't get drawn into a pointless argument. This means don't start them, either. Don't fight just to prove a point. Ask first "Does this really, truly matter to me?" Then ask "Do I have the right to an opinion about it?" Many times the answer is yes, you do have the right to an opinion. Sometimes no, you don't. For example, you do have the right to not sit alone every night while your beloved is somewhere else doing fun things with other people. You do not have the right to bar your beloved from ever having fun with other people without you in tow.
Things TO Do
Do be honest. If you can't honestly admit why you want something, then there's no point in fighting about it. Once upon a time, I wasn't honest about my control-freak tendencies. I'm quite sure I drove my ex-husband insane with them. I couldn't admit that I wanted to control his life because I could not trust him, or anyone but me, to act like a grownup and do the right thing. If you're afraid or hurt, you have to be able to be honest about it.
Do be charitable. There's a difference between being charitable and being unselfish. It's the difference between giving a gift and making an emotional demand. Give your beloved all the benefit of the doubt that the word "beloved" implies. Even when you think that sheep have more thought out opinions, ignore that and treat your partner as though they're just as human as you. He or she may not be right, but does deserve to be heard.
Do get some perspective. Arguments are either malicious or not. If the argument isn't malicious, it really does come down to working out a problem. If there is a problem with household scheduling, you work it out. If there's a problem with emotional needs, you work it out the same way. If the argument is malicious, then it needs the poison drained out of it before it'll get anywhere.
Do trust each other. If you can't trust your beloved to want you to be happy, why are you in the relationship? Trust that your partner does not really want to hurt you.
Do use "I..." statements. "I feel like you're often tuning me out. I know you don't mean to, but is there some way I can say 'I really need all of your attention now'?" works so much better than "You never listen to me! You don't really care!" The first will get you sympathy and understanding, the second will only get defensiveness.
Do know when to let go. If you find that your aims, goals, dreams and desires are completely incompatible, let it go. Going back to that ex-husband of mine, he wanted to be a city boy, I wanted land in the country. He wanted to be an actor, I'd rather have a root canal with a bandsaw than be married to an actor. He loved video games and I loved books. There is no judgment in this, his desires are just as valid as mine. We just can't make a life together. Our dreams and goals pulled us too far apart. In addition, if you and your beloved can't work out ground rules for fighting, really, let it go. He or she still has some growing up to do.
Do keep going until the matter is actually resolved on all sides. If you don't, it'll turn into a point of contention that will come up each and every time you argue. Laundry list, anyone?
Do try to switch the conversation into a problem solving format. "Ok, you want x and I want y, how can we both get what we want?" Most sane people will be able to figure it out from there. If x and y are completely incompatible, see "Do know when to let go."
Do set these rules before saying "I do" if at all possible. That way, you'll go into the marriage with a strong foundation or you can let go gently without mutual property and child custody coming into the equation. If already married, try setting these rules anyway. It can only improve the relationship.
Do talk about these ground rules at a time when you're not fighting or angry. Talk about them in the normal course of life. Beware, a discussion like this may start an argument, but if it works it's worth it. If your partner doesn't want ground rules for arguing at all, look again and look hard. Counseling may help, but you may still be incompatible.
In conclusion, you can love someone to pieces and still not be right for each other. If your beloved has unresolved issues, he or she may need time to work on those without you. These issues can wreck lives, so step carefully. If you can get argument ground rules going that will actually solve the problem, so much the better. If you can't, or they're not respected, then you probably need to find somewhere else to be.
I formulated these rules during my teenage years because I lived with a family that believed in letting it all hang out. When someone in my family was angry with me, they felt perfectly justified in calling me things like "sociopathic, uncaring, manipulative little brat," starting when I was about five. Talk about blinking in confusion! I came to the conclusion that the people you live with every day are the most deserving of kindness, consideration, politeness, and self-control. We often treat these people like punching bags to take our frustrations with the rest of the world. We should build such trusting, deep relationships that we can get comfort and support from them when we need it. Fighting dirty is not the way to do that.
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