Here are 12 ways fights may be damaging your relationship, along with suggestions on how to disagree without being disagreeable.
You may not be fighting fair if . . .
1) You start too many sentences with “You.” Own your part. “I” statements go a long way and encourage your partner to respond in kind.
2) You JADE (Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain.) You have the right to feel how you feel and want what you want. You do not need to explain or justify your feelings or values, nor does your partner.
3) You keep doing what doesn’t work. Instead: If what you are doing isn’t working, try something else. It can help to say, “I feel we are going in circles. I know there is something important here or we wouldn’t both have such strong feelings. Can we start at the beginning, or try a different approach? That could help me understand this better.”
Or allow the option of a do-over. Either one of you can restart the clock at any time by saying, “Can we start again? How about a do-over?”
4) You make sweeping statements rather than sticking to specifics. Rather than saying “You never think of my needs” – which is likely to be untrue and will put your partner on the defensive – say something specific and finite, such as “When you came to bed the other night you made a lot of noise and woke me up. I felt upset because I have a big presentation tomorrow. Could you try to be quieter coming to bed if I am asleep?”
5) You take things out on each other. A fight sometimes may be a proxy for something else, perhaps not even between the two of you. If you are stressed or worried financial issues, career problems or your health or the health of a loved one, talk about those. Don’t take it out on your partner.
6) Tempers rise and voices follow. Speak softly and carry a big heart. Raised voices can trigger our fight-or-flight impulse. Instead: Be conscious of your words, gestures and tone. Don’t smirk, roll your eyes or use a sarcastic or mocking tone.
If you find you are raising your voice too much, apologize or suggest a time out by saying, “I am too upset and overwhelmed to speak constructively and I don’t want to say anything I will regret. Can we take a break and talk about this in an hour? That will give me a chance to think about what you’ve said and become my better self.”
7) Things get physical. Never, ever get physical. If there is any risk that may happen, walk away until you or your partner calm down.
8) You argue at the worst possible times. Instead: Find the optimal time and place. Bringing up a loaded topic when one or both of you is pressed for time, don’t have privacy, or is tired or hungry or in a chemically altered state can turn a small conflict into a big one.
9) You start arguing about one issue and start throwing in a ‘kitchen sink’ of other issues. If you or your partner piles on another issue, changes the subject or drags in past conflicts, little is likely to get resolved.
Instead: If during the course of a disagreement, you realize that a different, bigger or more important issue is arising, acknowledge that. Say, “We started talking about who should put away the dishes but I realize this may be about something bigger, like a sense of fairness and reciprocity. Can we talk about that instead in hopes that the dishes issue could be resolved along with this bigger issue?”
10) You interrupt or talk over each other. Monologues go nowhere and simultaneous monologues leave both people unheard. Let your partner vent if needed. Try to listen to the key points or themes, then paraphrase what you heard and ask if that is right. Then, ask if your partner is willing to hear your side.
11) Every argument seems life or death. Not everything is equally important. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. If everything feels like an A-One priority, nothing is likely to get done.
12) You talk more than listen. Instead: Ask, don’t tell. Listen at least half the time. Even more is better. Asking questions with an openness to hearing the answer is nearly always a productive thing to do. Asking questions often generates far more forward movement than explaining your position.
Copyright © Dan Neuharth PhD MFT