Fair Fighting with Your Lover

The two things I’ve learned after 25 years of marriage is that conflict in a relationship is inevitable and that if you don’t learn to fight fair – you can really do some damage. Good news: You can learn some guidelines. The key thing to remember in an intimate relationship is that resolving a disagreement is not about winning, it’s about creating a satisfactory solution to an issue that is acceptable to both partners.  (Actually, I found this to be a good strategy for the workplace as well – but that’s another topic!)  Most of the time, you and your partner just want to be understood and acknowledged. To avoid overlooking or overruling each other, try “empathetic reflection.” It’s a terrific tool for respectful listening.

 Here’s how it works. Fully listen to what your partner is saying and then reflect back to them what you think they are saying about what they feel and need. For example,   “It sounds like you are concerned about the deal and need more information.  Did I get that right?” It’s not important that you guess correctly about the need or the feeling, your partner will correct you if you are wrong.

 Once you listen, understand and acknowledge what your partner feels and needs, it can be your turn to express your needs and feelings.  With all the issues on the table, the two of you can work to close any gaps between what each of you want.  Since you and your partner both have a right to have needs and feelings, no one can be “wrong.” When blaming is absent, you can focus your energy on creating a satisfactory solution.

 It’s work, but it can be worthwhile. For more information, check out Nonviolent Communication  or visit my April post.

 Also, Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D posted the best “tips” article   I’ve ever read on fair fighting.  The Empathetic Reflection tool mentioned above works with her Item 3: Listen Respectfully.   Here’s my synopsis of her 10 tips:

Ten rules for friendly fighting that can strengthen your relationship, not harm it.

  1. Embrace conflict. Conflict is normal. Differences mean that there are things you can learn from each other and shows us where we can grow.
  2. Go after the issue, not each other. Friendly fighting sticks with the issue. Avoid name-calling and character assassination. It’s better to deal with the problem without of hurting each other’s feelings.
  3. Listen respectfully. When people feel strongly about something, it’s only fair to hear them out. Respectful listening means acknowledging their feelings, either verbally or through focused attention. It means never telling someone that he or she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It means saving your point of view until after you’ve let the other person know you understand that they feel intensely about the subject, even if you don’t quite get it. (Note: Here’s where you can try EMPATHETIC REFLECTION.)
  4. Talk softly. Yelling makes it less likely you will be heard. Even if your partner yells, there’s no need to yell back. You want to focus on issues instead of reacting to noise.
  5. Get curious, not defensive. Defending yourself, either by proclaiming your innocence or rightness or by attacking and blaming your partner escalates the fight. Instead of upping the ante, ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding.
  6. Ask for specifics. Statements that include the words “always” and “never” aren’t too helpful for resolving issues.  When you or your partner has complaints, ask for or give specific examples so you can understand exactly what he or she is talking about.
  7. Find points of agreement. Usually, there are parts of a conflict that can be points of agreement. Finding common ground, even if it’s just agreeing that there is a problem, will help you find a solution.
  8. Look for options. Fighting ends when cooperation begins. Ask politely for suggestions or alternatives to invite collaboration. Carefully consider those suggestions to show respect. You may also offer alternatives; it shows that you are willing to try something new.
  9. Make concessions. Small concessions can turn a situation around and may lead to larger compromises. If you give a little, it makes room for the other person to make concessions too. Compromise doesn’t necessarily mean you’re meeting each other exactly 50-50. Sometimes the agreement is 60-40 or 80-20. This isn’t about score-keeping. It’s about finding a solution that works for both of you.
  10. Make peace. You know the old rule: never go to bed angry. Agree that the relationship is more important than winning arguments. When your partner does give in, show appreciation and make a peace offering of your own.

Fight the good fight and much love to you! Read the Hartwell-Walker article here.

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Date: Thursday, 5. August 2010 17:06
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Love & Sex, Relationships

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