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5 Tips for Fair Fighting

Into every life conflict will arise. 

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This is the inevitable reality we must all wrap our minds around.  I know we don’t like it.  I know we wish it could be avoided.  People often go to great lengths to avoid it and, trust me, that don’t go well either.  I see more problems from people storing up resentments and then acting passive aggressively, withdrawing from loved ones or ultimately exploding in a rage over the 20 years’ worth of upsets that have never been addressed.  It’s much healthier to find assertive ways to bring up and work through conflicts as they arise.  The momentary discomfort is far better than a crumbling marriage or a cutoff friendship.  With that in mind, here are some helpful hints to make conflict more palatable for all involved. 

#1 Communication will always go better if it starts with “I,” not “You”

Telling someone you love, “You’re a nightmare and I can’t believe how self-centered you are,” will not go as well as saying, “I feel disappointed that you forgot our anniversary yesterday.” People naturally get defensive when you start a conversation by telling them what’s wrong with them.  You may have a point to make but it will get lost if you start the conversation this way.

#2 Bring things up in a timely manner

Do not store up things for 20 years and then do a dump of every transgression that has upset you.  This is so unfair.  Nobody can remember or make amends to you for things that happened years ago.  It’s also unfair if you label as a pattern a number of un-addressed behaviors exhibited over a period of time and then tell someone that you’re done dealing with them because of it.  Give people you love a chance to work things out with you.  Yes, there are people who aren’t capable of working things out, people who will respond with rage and an inability to soften or to take any accountability—but this is not most people.  If you have too many people like this in your life then it may be time to search out more reciprocal relationships where there is more give and take.  But don’t blame others in your life for your inability to confront and resolve issues that bother you.

#3 Always remember that the written word is forever!

People have developed nerves of steel in this age of email and text communications.  Do yourself a favor and do not send the first response you think of when you are upset with someone.  Write it out and before you hit ‘send,’ censor and censor again.  Have someone you trust read it if you’re still concerned about how it comes across.  But things once written cannot be unwritten and what you write can be out there forever with no guarantee that the person you send it to owns the only eyes that will read it.  If there’s a big problem it’s better to talk it out in person or even on the phone than to write something in a moment of anger.

#4 Keep other people out of it!

If you have a problem with someone in your life then deal with them directly.  Do not start pulling other people into the conversation.  It’s a tremendous piling-on to tell someone, “Not only do I have a problem with you but this one and that one in your life also have this same problem with you.” Saying this to a person is unfair and demoralizing.  A person can only and should only be responsible for dealing with you and your upset.  They shouldn’t have to explain or justify their behavior with someone else to you also.  If there can be no resolving of issues with others, why bring it up?  To be hurtful?  To prove that your point must be right because other people see it your way also?  Well, they may be able to start bringing other people in, too, to back up their upset about you and how is this helpful?  It’s up to other people to deal with their own upsets.  Making yourself the spokesman of all who are upset with your loved one is just going to make them defensive and overwhelmed and this is not fertile ground for resolution.

#5 Deal with Behavior Not Character

People are much more likely to hear what behavior you didn’t like rather than an attack on who they are as a person.  It’s not productive to tell your sister that she’s a self-absorbed, selfish and uncaring person when she’s late to meet up with you.  Tell her instead that you’re upset and disappointed that she kept you waiting.  The better job you do of clearing out the dust bunnies in the room of your relationship, the easier it will be to be assertive and talk about the behavior that upsets you.  The unproductive alternative is storing up issues until you can hardly breathe and then blowing someone out of the water with your aggression about what kind of person they are.  Assaulting someone’s character can make them feel hopeless and defeated.  How can anyone begin to address or change who they are?  But focusing on behavior is respectful and gives the other person something to work with.

Conflict can be intimidating.  But following these tips can help it stay in the ballpark of ‘unpleasant’ as opposed to becoming a toxic mess of relationship devastation.  Relationships take care and nurturing.  We owe it to the people in our lives to do the best we can to communicate our upsets in a timely and caring way.  And remember that if it doesn’t go well and hurtful things are said that we must do our part to make a good repair and to try to mend the relationships that are important to us.

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