Couples Communication: Is There Such a Thing as a Good Fight?

If you’re like most people, you probably dread conflict with your partner. After all, when we said in our vows, “For better or for worse, ” we all hoped for more “better” moments than “worse.” I cannot imagine anyone delighting in feeling misunderstood or hurt, getting frustrated that their partner is not listening, and being overwhelmed by the stress of going in circles around an issue that keeps coming up between them.

Couples who come into marriage therapy usually have had their fair share of fights. I hear them say, “We can’t communicate with each other without starting a fight.” As a result, many of them choose to avoid having any verbal communication for fear of getting into another argument. In time, these couples drift apart, with little to hold their relationship together except bitter memories of fights long past and the constant fear of re-enacting them.

A fight is an emotionally charged moment when two people try to exchange their differing perspectives. It is a form of communication, with the hope that both will end up agreeing on an issue whether by persuasion or compromise. Because you and your partner are different people, with unique personality traits, life experiences, and values, you are bound to have different perspectives on many issues, ranging from division of chores to money management to remarks your in-laws made about last week’s dinner.

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Conflict avoidance may keep the peace for a while, but it does not prevent resentment from building up inside you. The key is to see every disagreement as an opportunity to learn something new about you and your partner’s needs. This means maintaining an open mind to possibilities, including the possibility that you could be wrong on the issue.

This point is so important it bears repeating: Keep in mind your partner may be right on the issue.

If we enter into an argument with that possibility in mind, a few things happen:

(a) we drop our agenda to “win this fight no matter what”;

(b) we prevent a power struggle;

(c) we stop Defensiveness from entering this exchange;

(d) we allow ourselves to be curious about our partner’s perspective;

(e) by modeling curiosity and listening behavior, we invite our partners to do the same for us.

This involves a simple shift in mindset, but it is by no means easy to do. If you have had a long pattern of bitter fights, learning to have a good fight is going to take time. Plus a lot of practice from both of you.

Ling Chua’s workshop, “How to Fight So You Both Win,” will take place on May 3, 2014, at Therapy Associates in Bellevue, WA. This is part of the Wellness Series workshops, which is held on the first Saturday of every month, from 9:30am to 12:30pm.

Space is limited. Register now at Eventbrite.com or email lingc@acrs.org for details.

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