As a Marriage and Family Therapist I spend a lot of time with fighting couples. Generally I enjoy my work because I get to see folks change the way they relate to each other and that can really inspire me! Over the years I have helped many couples to have a good fight. Now, that might sound like an oxymoron but it isn’t. Most couples come to therapy to STOP fighting, but I say good fights make for good relationships – if you do it right. So Let me tell you a few sure fire ways to have a great fight (and the make-up sex isn’t bad either!).
Tips for Good Fighting
Schedule Your Fight. Most times fights get out of hand when one or both people are tired, cornered or taken off guard. With little or no pre-planning partners can easily go into attack-defend mode. For example, your partner may take issue with a particular habit you have and before you know it you are in a full blown argument and you may have even forgotten (or have never known) what you’re trying to accomplish. Even worse is that you may have an audience witnessing your fight.
Leave the spectators out of your fight by scheduling regular meetings, free from other people and distractions, where the main purpose is to discuss the business of your relationship. Put parameters around this time. You might decide that once a week for half an hour is all it takes to clear the air. Literally set an egg timer giving both of you time to voice concerns. Round 1 can be your partner’s concern(s) and Round 2 you get a chance to vent. Partners are much more likely to take the time to discuss bothersome issues if they know it won’t become an all-nighter! And it is much easier to listen well and respond lovingly if you both know that there are time constraints around the fight. And like in boxing, do not fight outside of the ring!
Go for a win-win. In a relationship, trying to be the sole winner of a fight is counterproductive because even if you win, you lose. You want to make sure that both you and your partner come out of the fight having gained ground; and looking for a way to help your partner win is a good way to do that. Even if you might not agree with what your partner is saying you can validate his or her feelings. Can you name their emotion? If you listen very carefully to what is being said underneath your partner’s words (or their silence) and speak to that you will find a lot of common ground.
By learning to hear, honor and validate your partner’s sadness, frustration, or anger you are going a very long way in creating a win-win. He or she may be off about your intentions but they are always right about the way they feel. “I can see you are upset. Help me understand that” can go a very long way in creating a win-win! When your partner feels like you “get” him or her, the defenses drop and both people are right.
Have a Limited Agenda. Fights turn ugly when there is a no-holds barred attitude and everything and anything is game. Fighting the good fight is knowing exactly what you want to come away with at the end of your fight. Like boxers warming up, a good fight takes some pre-planning. Know exactly how you want the fight to end. Do you want to feel closer? Do you want your partner to understand you? Do you want something very specific like a certain decision to be made? If so, start by stating your agenda. “At the end of this I want you to know how scared I am about our finances.” Then stick to that and only that. When other topics come into play call foul! By simply saying, “I think we’re getting off topic; let me re-group” you can more easily get your partner to hear what is most important to you.
Shake Hands After the Fight. We learn as early as little league that no matter what happens in the game we line up and shake hands afterward. Ultimately you should be fighting so that you can have a better relationship. Most couples who have given up on their relationship rarely take the energy to fight so, in some ways, fighting is a commitment to make things better.
After the good fight, you might want to spend some alone time reflecting on and learning from the fight. This can be the equivalent of the post-game show in football. By gently reflecting on and learning from the fight we can move beyond it. Ultimately, at the end of it all, you want to feel closer to your partner than before the good fight! One way to do this is to have a post-fight ritual. For some it is make-up sex, for others it can be a soak in the hot tub or a walk around the block. Make sure to end the fight with some expression of connection. By marking the end of the fight with the proverbial handshake is a clear message that your life is what happens outside of the ring!
Roxanne Bamond, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She specializes in helping individuals and couples to create healthy relationships. She also assists and helps individuals through transitional difficulties such as a divorce, separation, or life crisis.