We did say Nourishment for spirit, soul & body. Let’s talk about relationships!
Fighting is quite a strong word when it comes to disagreements, and one could wish that differences in relationships were only ever that – mild and contained exchanges of viewpoints. But in reality, we all know that is not the case. Disagreements can turn mean and ugly and result in the worst versions of ourselves surfacing, often leaving us to wonder afterwards, who was that person?!
Have you ever had a fight with your other half? One where your blood pressure rises with your tone of voice, and you and your partner find yourselves in a deadlock, neither budging and no way out. Yes? If so, read on!
There is a reassuring part about disagreeing and having serious arguments or fights with your partner, and that is that it can be healthy for your relationship! Many relationship experts caution relationships where no conflict occurs, and go so far as to say relationship growth can be severely stunted without conflict. Phew, thank goodness! The key here is HOW you disagree, whether you are able to handle conflict well.
I am no relationship expert, but in our house, we have had enough disagreements and fights to know that if you want to fight forward (instead of in circles or backward), and grow from your arguments, there are rules to abide by, no matter how angry or hurt you feel at the time. Below I share with you our rules of engagement.
Rule 1: Don’t criticise
According to Dr John Gottman, who has done extensive research on relationships for over 40 years, it is perfectly acceptable and encouraged to complain in your relationship, as long as the complaining does not morph into criticising.
What is the difference you might ask? The general rule is that when complaining, you mostly refer to a specific event, and start your sentence with I. Criticism, in contrast, usually starts with YOU and contains words like always and never.
Complaint examples: I did not like it when you left the dirty dishes in the living room last night. Or, I did not feel respected when you left me waiting for 30 minutes.
You complained about your feelings within a specific situation, and that gives your partner something to work with.
Criticism on the other hand, would sound like this: You always leave the dirty dishes in the living room. Or, You never arrive on time when we have something scheduled.
Complaining opens the door for improvement, criticism leaves a person’s good character in question.
Rule 2: Don’t generalise
As tempting as it may be, leave words like always and never out of your vocabulary. It reeks of criticism and is untrue. Even if it feels like it, usually the accused is not always and never guilty of the act(s) they are being accused of.
Rule 3: Admit your share
All disagreements have 2 sides. Be humble and admit your share, even if it is only 10%. Few things disarm a fight like one person saying, ‘I’m sorry for saying/doing that’.
Note that you are not sorry for the other person’s feelings (that is not a valid apology), you are sorry for your action.
Rule 4: Don’t say everything that comes to mind
I always thought that to be honest, I have to say everything I think. This is not the wisest way to work towards reconciliation. Of course you must be honest, but there is wisdom in discernment. Most often your partner knows what they did wrong or where they can improve. If what you want to say does not add value, and you are unable to say it in love (i.e. you are retaliating), rather refrain.
Rule 5: Try and keep your tone of voice and body language respectful
This is a hard one! Remember that communication is not only verbal, but includes the non-verbal parts of body language and tone of voice. Try to keep your voice down and your body open and relaxed, not folding your arms or putting your hands on your hips.
If you are so angry that you cannot communicate appropriately, it is sometimes better to take a break for a while and cool off by going for a walk or a run or doing something calming.
Rule 6: Think positive thoughts about your partner
And expect the best, not the worst. Remind yourself about the good things.
If your husband is late from work, don’t expect that you will be happy to see him when all you think about for the 1 hour that you are waiting for him is how inconsiderate he is, how he is always late, how he doesn’t accommodate your needs etc. Try thinking about how hard he works for your family, how he always does what is within his ability to please you, the extra effort he puts in to make things happen etc.
People tend to live up or down to your opinion of them. Try to believe the best of your partner and his/her intentions toward you.
Rule 7: Be open to listen, not just hear
Know that people who get upset are people who actually care. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t bother. Listen to the complaint, and try to understand the reason behind it – did you hurt their feelings / are they worried about you?
Rule 8 (from my husband to yours): Don’t take it personal
If you are in a relationship with a woman, don’t take it personal. Things often come out sounding like it is your fault when, in fact, she is just blowing off steam. A wise man knows the difference!
And then two final tips –
Don’t move on immediately after a fight. Spend some time reflecting on what the disagreement was, how it was resolved, areas of improvement and where you missed the boat. This will ensure that you learn from each disagreement, and help you to handle it better in the future.
Dr John Gottman’s book Why marriages fail and succeed has been an invaluable resource for us, and helped us immensely in learning how to use disagreements to the advantage of our marriage. His premise is that a lasting marriage is not so much about compatibility, but about conflict handling instead.
Of course these rules of engagement take discipline and practice, and are easy to forget when things get heated. But, where there is a willingness to improve, there is always hope. Small 2 degree changes now makes for an entirely different direction in the future!
Do you have any rules of engagement that you stick to during disagreements? Share them with us, and let’s all become better forward fighters!
To life & in good health,