Conflict arises whenever people disagree about their perceptions, desires, ideas, or values. These differences can range from seemingly small disagreements to more significant arguments, but regardless of the content of the disagreement, conflict often stirs up strong feelings. Most people do not know how to take those emotions and channel them properly when disagreeing. Many times, when in conflict, one person will resort to at least one of these:
- Avoiding conflict altogether
- Feel attacked by criticism or disagreements
- Hit “below the belt” and regret it later
- Feel out of control when conflict arises
- Withdraw and become silent when they’re angry
- Bring up past issues
Conflict inevitably arises in any relationship, and for many of us, it creates feelings of significant discomfort or anger. If handled appropriately though, conflict can actually strengthen relationships and improve our understanding of each other.
Fair Fighting To The Rescue!
Fighting fairly is a way to manage conflict and the feelings that come with it, such as anger. To fight fairly, couples should follow some basic guidelines to help keep disagreements from becoming damaging. This may be difficult for those that think their partner is being irrational or unfair. So what does healthy fighting look like? Fighting fair means expressing one’s disagreement or anger to another person constructively. It is a healthy way to have conflict. At no time should physical harm be considered “fighting fair”.
Fair Fighting: Ground Rules
- Know your goals beforehand: Before you begin conflict resolution, ask yourself what issue is bothering you? What do you want the other person to do or not do? Are your feelings in proportion to the conflict? What are the possible outcomes that could be acceptable to you?
- Fight by mutual consent: Don’t insist on fighting at a time when one of you cannot handle this type of strain. A good fight demands two ready participants. It should be as soon as possible but agreeable to both persons. Try not to spring a conversation on someone when they are unprepared. If you encounter resistance to setting a time, try to help the other person see that this issue is important to you.
- Stick to the present: Do not bring up past mistakes of the other person. Storing up lots of grievances or hurt feelings over time is counterproductive to the goal of resolving the issue at hand. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
- Stick to the subject: Limit this fighting to this subject. Do not throw every other problem into it; tackle each problem separately. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
- Invite the other person to share their viewpoint: Be careful not to interrupt, and sincerely try to hear the concerns he or she is trying to express. Try to paraphrase what you heard in a way that lets your partner-in-conflict know you fully understand, and ask your partner to do the same for you.
- Don’t hit below the belt: In relationships, you discover each other’s sensitive areas. Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
- Don’t quit; work it out: Bring the fight to a mutual conclusion. Otherwise, it will just recur again and again. Be willing to compromise. Allowing the other person only one option makes it challenging to resolve the issue.
- Don’t try to win, EVER: If one person wins, the other person begins to build resentment about the relationship. That destroys rather than builds the relationship.
- Respect crying: Crying (as well as other emotions) is a valid response to how we feel, but don’t let crying sidetrack you. It is a response for men as well as women.
- Remain objective: Try not to overreact to difficult situations. By remaining calm it is more likely that your fighting partner will consider your viewpoint.
- Express feelings in words, not actions:If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, it may be time to pause the fight for a bit until you feel you can calmly discuss the issue again.
- Avoid accusations: Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than on understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
- Try not to generalize: Avoid words like “never” or “always.” Such generalizations are usually incorrect and may heighten tensions. Then be specific about what is bothering you.Vague complaints are hard to work on. Avoid “you” messages such as, “you make me angry….”; instead, try something like, “I feel angry when you….”
- Avoid clamming up: Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result by both parties. However, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or shutting down, you may need to take a break from the discussion. Just let your partner know you will return to the conversation as soon as you are able and set a time to follow-up.
- Establish common ground rules. You may even want to ask your partner-in-conflict to read and discuss this information with you so that resolution becomes much more likely.
- No violence: Physical violence violates all of the above rules for fighting by mutual consent.
Remember, a fight has the purpose of clearing the air and expressing deep feelings in order to build a more unified life. Keep your goal in mind – the goal of sharing your lives with each other.
When nothing seems to work
Sometimes, despite our best fair-fighting efforts, the conflict at hand seems overwhelming and insurmountable. When this occurs, talking with a trained, caring professional can help you mediate the issue and communicate more effectively to work your way through the conflict to a solution. Spence has many therapists trained to work through conflict in a healthy, safe way. Call 402.991.0611 to talk with our caring counselors today.