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Seven Essential Strategies for Fighting Compassionately

August 24, 2015

If couples never dissent, it’s a telltale sign they are not communicating authentically. It’s rare that even the best-matched pairs agree on absolutely everything; arguments can be a constructive part of a healthy relationship. However, they may also be a destructive feature of a doomed relationship. The difference doesn’t lie in the frequency of a couple’s fights, but in how they fight. Here are seven strategies healthy, loving couples use to fight compassionately.

  1. Address the behavior, not the person. There’s a striking difference between the statements, “You didn’t the chores you agreed to do,” and, “You are so lazy and unreliable.” The first is a simple, factual statement about someone’s behavior, which is a manageable problem to discuss. The second is a value judgement about someone’s character, which is likely to devolve into an emotionally-charged fight that dredges up the history of every reliable, unreliable, responsible, or lazy act either of you has ever performed.

  2. Keep it present and specific.Sweeping statements such as, “You never pay for dinner,” imply a character flaw, as above, and promote defensiveness. They are also easy to refute (“What do you mean? I paid that one time three months ago!”), and easily lead to petty arguments about semantics rather than conversations about real issues. In general, loving couples avoid words like “always” and “never” unless they truly mean them. The statement, “It bothers me that you haven’t paid for dinner yet this month,” is easier to digest and discuss.

  3. Be respectful. When you are agitated, there is a sick pleasure in prodding your partner into the same state, and the quickest way to do so is to be disrespectful. Resist this inflammatory temptation; when you’re both emotionally flooded, nothing productive will come out of any conversation you have. Avoid name-calling, eye-rolling, exaggerated sighing, door-slamming, and other button-pushing behaviors that you know deep down you’re not supposed to do toward people you love.

  4. Listen to understand, not to respond. Listening to your partner just enough to refute them is characteristic of defensiveness, and it’s not conducive to conflict resolution. One of the most therapeutic antidotes to feeling upset is to feel acknowledged. Hear your partner out without interrupting, and listen for their intent rather than picking apart the minutia of what they express. Show them you understand their perspective before sharing yours.

  5. Be the bigger person. Even if you and your partner are both on board with the suggestions above, there will be times each of you are too flustered to adhere to them. When your partner resorts to childish tactics, instead of engaging, hear what’s behind their words and redirect the conversation in a loving way. If your frustrated partner yells, “You’re always late. I can’t stand how inconsiderate you are,” consider using the techniques above to hear their intent and calmly reframe what they said: “I understand that you’re upset about how late I got home the last two nights in a row. You’re right, not calling ahead to let you know was inconsiderate.”

  6. Press pause. The old adage is, “Never go to bed mad,” but sometimes fatigue, hunger, or other external factors can push an argument into ugly territory. It’s okay to take a break from the discussion and come back when all parties are rested, fed, and comfortable. Instead of completely dismissing the topic, which can feel disrespectful if it’s important to your partner, set a specific time to return to it.

  7. Nourish each other regularly. Creating a loving environment for arguments extends beyond what happens during the fights themselves. If positive, caring words and actions between partners is the norm, they have the reserves and motivation to weather the tough conversations that ultimately allow them to fulfill one another even more deeply.

So the next time you feel like going for the throat, take a moment to breathe and use some of these strategies. It's amazing how far a little mindfulness will go.

Author: Barbie Levasseur

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