Monday, May 6, 2013

Couples Fight

So, I had a disagreement with my significant other recently.  What started out as a minor difference in opinion seemed to spiral completely out of control in short order.  I found myself in a very dark place wondering how on earth two people who care so deeply for each other can let such a small thing become so big.

Here's what I came up with...

1) The fight is rarely about the small thing.  It is more often about how the parties involved respond to/communicate with each other in trying to navigate the discussion to that seemingly small disagreement.

2) Once one or both of the involved parties begins to feel that the other is being "unreasonable" the discussion becomes an argument.

3) Ongoing focus on the original issue won't likely bring satisfactory resolution.

Here's how I try to combat the above 3 things...

Identify the trigger:  What words or actions precede an emotional response?

Common trigger words/phrases:

  • Actually, I don't generally react too strongly to specific words.  But I can tell you that the men that I have been in relationships with have identified the following triggers for themselves:  "Always", "Never", "You weren't listening", "You don't care", "I don't care", "Whatever"
Common trigger actions:
  • Dismissal:  When the person I am talking with seems to disengage or end a discussion because they don't want to talk about it anymore, even when I have expressed a need to continue discussing.
  • Walking away:  Physically leaving in the midst of a conversation.
  • Some trigger actions that men have expressed to me include:  I argue with their opinion and sometimes escalate to yelling or a sharp (aka bitchy) tone of voice.
Communicate these triggers to your partner:  Most of the time; we are triggered or trigger our partner's response inadvertently.  So, once we know what out triggers are - we should tell our partner.  This goes a long way towards building a less combative communication style.  I can tell you that I have worked hard to eradicate known trigger words and phrases from my vocabulary. 

Take a break:  When the emotional response begins to take control of the discussion; it's a good idea to let the other party know that you need a break or to allow your partner to tell you that he/she needs a break.  This doesn't mean the conversation is over; but it does mean that both people agree to retreat and try to regain their composure.  When deciding to take a break; agree to when a good time to try to re-engage in the discussion is. During the break, it's a good idea to take stock in the discussion that is taking place and try to isolate why the disagreement is upsetting to each of you.  As a woman; I can tell you this is sometimes really difficult.  I often have emotional reactions to things that I don't understand and that may take me days or weeks to figure out.

Change the focus:  The reality is that the argument that occurs is usually fueled by something other than the original point of disagreement; so, it's a good idea to change the focus of the discussion.   Try focusing on what each of you needs to see happen in order to move on.  Be realistic and recognize that usually both parties will need to compromise, at least a little.

Take care of yourself:  If you are not feeling well or have been in a high-stress situation for an extended period time; it's important to recognize that you may not be engaging in a productive manner.  Take a moment to ask yourself how you were feeling before the discussion began.  If you can recognize that you (or your partner for that matter) are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out to begin with; it can often shed some light on why a particular discussion or comment may have upset you.  Once you've patched things up - recognize that you need to make your needs a priority for a little while. Once you're feeling calmer and happier; your frustration with your partner will likely lessen.

Ask for what you want:  My experience (at least with men) is that they are pretty straightforward creatures when it comes to what they want and their feelings.  So, when you communicate with your partner; take a moment to think about their communication style.  I have found that a straightforward request is surprising effective when it comes to resolving things with my guy.  "I'd like to go out for dinner tonight instead of cooking;" "Would you mind emptying the dishwasher", etc.  I have had countless conversations with friends over the years where they say things like, "Why should I have to ask?" or "I wish he would just offer."  Honestly, I've had that feeling myself at times.  But at the end of day; if you want to get what you want - it's much easier to ask for it straight up than to expect your partner to just know or just do whatever it is that you have on your mind.

Now, I'm definitely not saying I'm an expert on this stuff and I sometimes find myself slipping into bad habits but I can say that when I do follow my own advice; I usually end up feeling better, treating my significant other better and being treated better by him.  Which, I am happy to say - makes me happy :-)