Couples fall into common pitfalls when they get into arguments. These pitfalls, although tempting to fall into, only create damage and hurt relationships. Not listening, arguing to be right, attacks, accusations, bringing up past mistakes, and blowing up or shutting down feel good in the moment, but, in the long-term, they destroy loving relationships. Whatever the pitfall you find yourself falling into, change starts with you. You must lead the way to a better relationship by changing your conflict resolution style. Emphasis on the word resolution. When you have conflict, it should be done for the purpose of resolution, not venting your feelings ore inflicting pain on the other person. So, how do you do that? Here’s my practical, step-by-step advice on how to fight constructively with your partner.
Step 1: Communicate and listen to understand the other person, not to build a case against them. Often times, partners listen to each other in order to find the weak spot in their argument, or an inconsistency, or a factual error. If you do this, your conflicts will always end in disaster. Instead, listen to your partner in order to understand them. Practically speaking, you need to listen so that you get where they are coming from. THEN, articulate that understanding to them. I coach couples to use an Empathy Statement at this point in the conversation. An empathy statement is where you identify what the other person is feeling “You feel hurt…” and then explain the reason why they feel that way “because I forgot our anniversary.” You can also say, “I understand you feel… because…” or something like that.
Step 2: Clarify if you heard them correctly. This is an important step. Use simple statements like “Did I hear you right?” “Am I hearing you correctly?” “Did I get that right?” “What am I missing?” These questions allow the other person to clear up a misunderstanding, to add more to what they said or to correct you if you aren’t understanding them correctly. Clarification is a gesture of respect and it helps couples get on the same page.
Step 3: If, and only if you have done the hard work of understanding the other person, then you can offer your side of the story. And the way you do this will make or break the conversation. The way you do this practically is to give “I” Statements. I Statements are similar to Empathy Statements, yet you are the one sharing your feelings and the reasoning. Start out saying “I feel hurt…” and then provide the reasoning or explanation for why you feel that way, “because you forgot our anniversary.” So the formula is “I feel (name the emotion)… because (explanation why you feel that emotion)….” And when explaining the emotion, be brief. Don’t use this skill as an excuse to put the other person on blast.
Step 4: Problem solving. When both parties feel heard and understood by the other person, then and only then, focus on solutions to the problem. I walk clients through a 3-fold problem solving skill. Start with Brainstorming ideas. I often have to caution partners to not shoot down an idea prematurely. The brainstorming time is a judgement free-zone. Just throw out as many ideas as you can. Then, weigh the Pros and Cons of each idea. This step may surprise in that what you thought was a bad idea initially, may in fact be a good idea after considering the pros and cons. Finally, pick the best idea and Commit to it. This may require some negotiating and compromise between the two of you, but hey, that’s adulthood. When compromising you are more likely to get some of what you want rather than none of what you want. So, give it a try, and may you fight in a manner that builds respect between the two of you.