Conflict is unavoidable but learning how to war right strengthens the relationship
Arguments are unavoidable in relationships but how you fight makes all the difference. It may feel therapeutic for the moment to vent and give in to a verbal whipping, but it will only cause resentment and perhaps invite payback.
Clinical Psychologist Seema Hingorrany places arguments in two categories - destructive and constructive. "Destructive arguments include elements of hostility and vengeance.
You can have a constructive argument by sticking to the issue and dealing with it calmly. It prevents the argument from culminating into a major breach."
The way we fight reflects how our parents dealt with issues. If you have a dysfunctional memory of your parents' fights, you will get defensive. If you're harbouring grudges against your parents, it can spill into your relationship, and intervention is crucial.
People can resort to open and/or secret warfare. Open warfare is where you are aggressive and negative in approach, while secret warfare (e.g. silent treatment, stonewalling) is passive aggressive. Seema lists the errors one is prone to make in a heated moment:
- Turning nasty, hitting below the belt or pointing out flaws.
- Character assassination, raising your voice and hurting your partner's ego.
- Digging up past incidents.
- Bringing up partner's parents and say uncomplimentary things about them.
- Volleying blame.
- Constant stonewalling or giving the silent treatment.
- Threatening to leave, which causes tremendous insecurity.
The goal of arguments should be to become more aware of the problem, instead of attacking the partner. Seema suggests these techniques to find the emotional balance:
- Take a container each, label it and put notes about troubling issues in each other's container. It gives your partner time to process his/ her thoughts.
- Do one activity together, e.g. bake or work out together.
- Undertake calming exercises together — the Art of Living courses, meditating before sleeping, talking about the best places you have visited. Talking about something pleasant after the fight always works. Activating positive memories is the key.
- Self-discipline is crucial. Accept that you cannot have a conflictfree relationship. Don't compare yourself to other loving couples. Don't say 'But my personality is like that'; make an effort to change that trait. You can't expect your partner to automatically understand what you are going through. Banging doors, public fights, etc. reach that level of catastrophe because you haven't addressed the issues. Modulate your voice and watch your body language.
- Don't take your problems to bed. If it gets destructive (e.g. verbally abusive), declare a time-out. » Be relaxed and calm. The more you badger, the less your partner will be willing to talk. Avoiding confrontation is a part of some people's personality. Understand their personality and respect that. Sometimes writing a note, e-mail or a gold old-fashioned letter is the best way to communicate with a passive aggressive partner.
- Never stonewall your partner. If you don't want to talk, step away but provide an explanation.
- Avoid long gaps in a fight, otherwise your partner will hold grudges and resent you.
- Never argue when you or your partner are tired or hungry.
- Don't start the blame game; it will only make the other person defensive. Both of you can make a list of pointers that bother you and then deal with them diplomatically.
- Women are wired to communicate; they need coping resources as the stress can lead to lack of sleep and loss of appetite. Journaling helps to contain the negativity. Cultivate new friendships and hobbies to put problems in perspective.
- Emotional distance is crucial. If you're hyper, take a walk and come back.
- Choose battles wisely.
- Beware of magnifying or distort problems. Stick to the issue and keep the conflict specific.
- Some people suffer from mood swings. Catch them in a good mood if you want to make a point. You can't change the core of a person, but learn how to work around it.
- Respect the boundaries of the relationship. Do not discuss the issues with outsiders except for a commonly agreed upon mediator.