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Seven Essential Strategies for Fighting Compassionately

August 24, 2015

It’s natural for humans to argue from time to time. And it’s rare for even the best-matched couples to agree on absolutely everything. It could be argued that the occasional disagreement could be a constructive part of a healthy relationship, allowing partners to work through their differences in a healthy and respectful way. However, arguments, whether rare or frequent, can be destructive to a relationship if not handled with compassion. It comes down tohow couples fight, notwhat they’re fighting about. Disagreements are going to happen in relationships, and while we don’t encourage breaking into a fight for no reason, we have put together a handful of suggestions for how to handle an arguments with love and compassion – even if you don’t totally agree with the other person.

  1. Address the behavior, not the person. There’s a striking difference between the statements, “You didn’t do 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 judgement of someone’s character, which is likely to lead to an emotionally-charged fight that dredges up the history of every reliable, unreliable, responsible, or lazy act either of you has ever performed. Rather than playing the blame game and picking out flaws (whether real or perceived), recognize that it was theactionthat needs to be addressed.
  2. Keep it present and specific.Sweeping statements such as, “You never pay for dinner,” imply a character flaw, like we saw in the first example above, and can promote defensiveness. Such statements can also lead someone to refute, “What do you mean? I paid that one time three months ago!”, and easily send you into unnecessary arguments about hypotheticals. Try to avoid using words like “always” and “never” unless they really warrant use. The statement, “It bothers me that you haven’t paid for dinner yet this month,” is easier to digest and discuss.
  3. Be respectful. It is easy for us to let our emotions take over when we’re upset or agitated by our partner’s actions, and instead of talking about what’s bothering us, we can be passive aggressive or try to prod our partner into the same state by being disrespectful. Before you feel like taking a hit at your partner, take a step back and assess how you’re feeling and how youreally want to address the problem at hand. 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 are harmful to relationships.
  4. Listen to understand, not to respond. Listening to your partner just enough to refute them is characteristic of defensiveness, and is not conducive to conflict resolution. When your partner comes to you with an issue, they want their feelings to be acknowledged. Just listening can be incredibly therapeutic to a blip in a relationship and strengthen communication. Hear your partner out without interrupting, and really listen to what they’re saying, even if you don’t want to hear about how you really need to start following up on your promises. It can be difficult to listen to such statements, especially when we can see our partner is upset, but it’s important to respect their concerns and their bravery for coming forward with the issue. 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 situations get emotional or heated, we can sometimes resort to childish antics, instead of respectfully engaging in the conversation. If your partner is in this state, listen to what’s behind their words and redirect the conversation in a loving way. If a 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. You’re right that it was inconsiderate to not call ahead to let you know I would be late. I will make sure to have that conversation with you if it happens again.”
  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. It can also be helpful sometimes to write out a list of things you want to discuss, or that have come up in the first part of your conversation that still need to be addressed, just so that nothing goes amiss.
  7. Nourish each other regularly. Creating a loving environment for arguments extends beyond what happens during a fight itself. Sharing positive, caring words and actions between yourself and your partner can strengthen your relationship and offer a foundation for safe and loving communication, even if that’s an argument. Take some time every day to let your partner know you care for them, support them and always have their back. Show compassion in your actions and be respectful when they come to you with an issue, whether it relates to something that happened at home or at the office. At the end of the day, you love each other and have each other’s best interests at heart.

The next time you feel like starting a fight, whether warranted or not, take a moment to breathe and use some of these strategies. It's amazing how far a little mindfulness will go.