Updated: Feb 16, 2021
Relationships take engagement, particularly if you want one that is based on respect & mutual understanding. No matter how in love you are, how passionate, or similar, you will inevitably encounter times when you & your partner have different needs, expectations, or perspectives. This is a good thing. It’s in overcoming these challenges as a couple that you build the bonds of trust & intimacy. That said, the capacity to meet these challenges in a thoughtful way is not always at the forefront of our minds, especially when our partner has left an empty toilet paper roll on the dispenser.. again.
Why we Fight.
Couples fight when one or both are triggered by an action (or inaction) of the other. This trigger causes an emotional or survival response (fight/ flight/ flee) & leads to any number of defensive, offensive, or detached reactions. Issues concerning sex, time, money, family, housework, & communication are the most common reasons couples fight. Regardless of the issue, a fight generally comes down to each person’s current state (their experience, physiological condition, & perceptions), their expectations, & what they need in order to feel secure, supported & safe.
Sometimes fights have to do with a problem in the relationship & others have to do with where one party is at. I know I’m far less patient & far more irritable when I haven’t slept or am stressed about work. As you & your partner get to know each other ~ your triggers, reaction styles, & ways of processing ~ you become better at navigating the tense times. Some fights are actively avoided with clear communication while others become civil disagreements, no longer holding a big emotional charge. However, this comes with practice ~ which means encountering those situations that trigger us & working through the reactions & arguments that follow.
Whether it’s a new challenge or what seems to be the ‘same’ fight there are ways of engaging which support greater clarity, respect, & ultimate resolution. Below I map out six practices that will help you & your partner transform arguments into intimacy. If you are willing to engage in these ways I am confident that you will not only understand your partner better but find greater confidence & clarity in yourself.
#1 Give it Space
Space is essential for individuals to process information, understand themselves, & communicate effectively. When you are in an argument & you realize that you’re spinning your tires, getting overly reactive, or that one person's withdrawn take some time apart to re-group. When your nervous system is in survival mode of, fight, flight, or freeze, you no longer have access to the resourceful & socially inclined part of your brain. That means that a healthy resolution is likely out of reach. Step away from the argument & come back when you both feel more calm, even 5 minutes can do wonders.
Space is also essential in the process of bigger or ongoing arguments. Some topics can take many conversations while others will likely evolve through the years. Pay attention to the progress, however slight &, when possible, avoid pressuring the other to respond right away. We often need time to process & consider what is said.
Finally, space also means letting the little things go. As humans we are bound to have quirks or habits that irritate each other. By accepting these quirks in your partner you give them space to be as they are.
#2 Know Thyself
Many arguments begin or are magnified by being outside of ourselves. I’ve worked with several women (including myself) who get caught up in trying to be/ act/ or do what they think will elicit the desired response from their partner. In other words, they try to ‘manage’ their partners reactions & responses even at the expense of their own well being.
Knowing ourself is both the most important & often the most challenging practice. Learning how to allow & respect our thoughts, emotions, & needs is a lifelong process.
The following questions may help;
What emotions am I experiencing?
Notice your emotions separate from your interpretation of the situation. (i.e. I feel sad, frustrated or confused).
What thought or interpretations do I have about this situation?
Notice the thoughts, judgements, or interpretations you have around the situation. (i.e. “I feel like she never listens” or “He doesn’t care about me”)
What am I afraid of?
Conflict often happens when we are triggered. We are triggered it’s because we sense danger & are in fear. What are you afraid of in this situation? (i.e. I’m afraid they don’t care about me, afraid of being alone, afraid of not being understood)
What do I Need/ Desire?
Our fears are usually quite insightful into telling us what it is we desire or need. For example “I’m afraid she doesn’t care about me” could be indicative of a need for love or affection.
When clarifying your needs see if you can do so in a way that is yours alone & not about your partner ( i.e. A need for love, as oppose I need them to love me like _____)
*Note, this is not to say our partner won’t help us with our needs. It is that by understanding our needs, independent of our partner, we gain greater insight into how they might be met.
*For more information on this step check out the blog ‘Begin with You’
#3 Get Specific
It is much easier to solve problems that are specific & tangible. When you exaggerate, generalize, or combine problems together they become over-whelming & much more difficult to solve. By resolving the small seemingly insignificant challenges or arguments you build the capacity as a couple to face bigger challenges & mitigate arguments that result from perpetual resentment.
Be Specific about the Challenge
What are the facts, free from interpretation, that instigated the argument? For example saying “You’re always late!” is difficult to resolve & may feel like an attack. However if you state the specific circumstance (i.e. “when you were twenty minutes late to lunch today) & then your personal experience of the situation (i.e. I felt frustrated & annoyed) there is more clarity through which to approach the situation.
Be Specific in Your Requests
The more clear, specific, timely, & invitational a request the easier it is to meet. Drawing from the example above one might make the request ~ “Would you mind calling me when you are running late so that I can understand what’s going on?” This will land more effectively then “You should know that I’d be waiting, why didn’t you call me!?” Which is a more aggressive & less clear approach to the same request.
If you're familiar with the mindfulness or spiritual communities you have likely heard the idea that "it is our response to a situations that causes our suffering not the situation itself." Of course, there's truth in this statement BUT it can also be taken way too far. I've often see people negate their feelings or needs because they believe that something 'shouldn't' bother them or that they 'should' just be able to 'let it go' (which only makes them feel worse when they can't).
Let’s be grown up’s here. Every argument has 2 sides. In our significant relationships it's essential that both parties examine their responsibility in creating the conflict. Being able to do this will require humility, self respect, honesty, & time. Be gentle with yourself (& your partner) as you learn this skill through practice & engagement.
As a rule of thumb I find that when one is really clear about their contribution to an argument it 'feels right' without feeling righteous. It's clear & unattached to an outcome. If you are spinning around what you ‘should have’ done or adamantly dismissing the idea that you had any role in the fight you might want to return to the ‘Know Thyself’ section.
* It's worth noting that our contribution could include external actions (i.e. dismissing the other, passive aggression ) or internal (i.e. negating our own needs, internal narratives).
#5 Listen to Understand
Listening to understand means genuinely & curiously seeking to understand what the other person is trying to tell you. This is not about being right, fixing the problem, or jumping to what we 'think' they are saying. It's about understanding & it could take some excavating.
If you 'feel' like you've heard their response a thousand times, or that you already 'know' what they're trying to say pause & open yourself up to the possibility of learning something new. This 'knowing' gets in the way of understanding because in that moment you make it about you knowing ~ instead of understanding them. Give them space to speak & when you aren't sure about something ask for clarification. If they are finished & you think you have idea of what they are saying, reflect it back to them & check to see if you have it right. This will ensure you to meet the actual situation as oppose to the one you imagine is there.
* If you’d like to really dive into listening check out my blog: Be a Good Listener
#6 Remember Love
Real love, not infatuation or insecure attachment, but genuine love is an act of respect. It’s not about being right, about ‘making’ our partner different, or about any form of manipulation or self serving agenda ~ it's about honouring, respecting, & being present to the situation as it is.
This means honouring ourself, our feelings, & needs & honouring the same in our partner. It's this genuine commitment to love that gives us the patience, perseverance, & humility to meet each other as we are. This LOVE seeks real solutions ~ one’s that are independent of our agendas and often lead to healing, connection, & true intimacy.
About the Author
Amy Thiessen is a coach, writer, & musician who focuses on helping women connect to their confidence, purpose, & self esteem through voice & communication. Offering a holistic approach Amy helps individuals uncover & overcome their unique blocks around voice & communication, connect to their self esteem & purpose, & ultimately express themselves in a way that is empowered & impactful.
If anything in this blog sparks your curiosity & you're interested in developing these skills please reach out! It often takes the support of another to fully acknowledge & understand our blind spots. The goal of In Resonance Coaching is to help you see & understand yourself through somatic awareness, gentle inquiry, nervous system regulation, & a trust that you hold the truth for yourself (though you may need help finding it). If you would like to feel more clear, confident & empowered in your relationship I would love to help you get there! You can book a 20 min session with me with absolutely zero strings. Here you can learn more about In Resonance Coaching & we can check to see if we are compatible. And I PROMISE that if I don't think I am a real fit or I believe there is a better therapist for you I will pass along their info.