The Good Fight
1.Rules of Engagement
Avoid Defensiveness. If your partner has accused you of being defensive, or if you realize that about yourself, make an effort to agree in principle to what your partner has said. Don’t do this as a tactic; do it with sincerity.
For example, if your partner says you are selfish, respond with something like, “you’re right, I am selfish on occasion.” Debating about whether you were selfish in any particular instance will probably result in a futile argument, but agreeing that you are, at times, selfish (which is probably true!), will side-step an adversarial brawl.
2. Be Responsive
Since not being defensive is very important, here is another approach to consider-practice being responsive. When you are responsive, you are aware of your feelings but don’t let them run you. This is extremely empowering; it involves being open to views that are in conflict with yours. In talking to your partner, for example, instead of arguing ferociously or explaining yourself frantically, you might simply listen carefully without interrupting (interrupting is a dead giveaway that you are being defensive) and say something like, “I understand what you are saying, your view is credible, but I see it differently.” Or, rather than react emotionally, you might say, “I am viewing things differently, let me think about it a bit and then we’ll discuss it.”
3. Take Responsibility
Recall, every issue is an interaction between two people. For example, there can be no dominating husband without a submissive wife, no interrupting wife without a passive and willing husband. Every “villain” requires a cooperative “victim.” Consequently, when discussing a problem, it is good policy to state your own role in the issue rather than focusing on your partner’s. If you are interested in promoting resolution, it is best to start with yourself. As Daniel Goleman reports in Working with Emotional Intelligence, “At American Express, the ability to spot potential sources of conflict, take responsibility for one’s own role, apologize if need be, and engage openly in a discussion of each person’s perspective is prized in their financial advisors.”
4. Look for the Familiar
Review the themes of your conflicts. In a time when conflict is not raging, you can do this with your partner. What underlying issue connects all or most of your arguments? Think about this until you find some commonality because, in fact, there is practically always a connection. Most of us have one theme underlying all the fights throughout our marriage. There is one theme played out with endless variations. Puzzle out the theme and you have a handle on all of your fights. For instance, a couple may have what appears to be a host of unrelated arguments when in fact they may all have one person trying to exert control over the other in common.
Differences are inevitable, an all-out brawl is optional. Have you found anything for resolving differences that works well for you? If so, drop me a line.
Wanna know how I used to fight? It’s in my memoir, Saving My Life: A Least Likely to Succeed Success Story. Check it out for free…