Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fighting Fair

All couples disagree at times. If you don't, somebody isn't participating! As a couples therapist, I am always interested in couples I work with finding respectful, fair ways to disagree with each other, without creating damage to the relationship. There are some keys to making sure your disagreements don't tear you apart.

Don't expect your partner to be exactly like you. This is a great place to start. If you need to have everything your way, you are better off staying single. Being successfully partnered means appreciating that there are often several correct ways to approach most things. Seek to understand your partners' preferences, needs, and patterns. Understand that your partner will think that the way things were done in their family growing up is the right way to do things, while you have your own,unique, family imprints. If we each get emotional blueprints for how relationships work, we need to be tolerant and respectful that our partner is working from a different blueprint. It's not right and wrong. One of you may have grown up with dinner always at 5:00, or the wife doing all the parenting, or the husband managing all the finances. If your partner got a different script, you've got to be able to discuss and negotiate kindly.

Argue only by appointment with each other. Don't launch into an argument when your partner is on their way to work or another important commitment. Set up a time to discuss an issue if needed.

Stick to one issue per discussion. I have witnessed couples spiral into negativity and unproductive defensiveness when they float from one issue to the next. This is the mistake: any fight can move from one issue to everything and the kitchen sink.

Don't call names, raise your voice , or swear at your partner. These are damaging behaviors that will cause your partner to resent you, distance fom you and/or fear you. You have to feel safe with a loved one to feel you can be intimately connected. Children and teens also have shared with me in family counseling that these same "below the belt" argument strategies from parents make them shut down and give up on you.

Stay solution-focused whenever you argue. Avoid boxing your partner in by using the words "always" and "never". Ask for what you need and try to listen nondefensively to your parner's perspective.Be specific about what would help. Aim for win/win solutions you can both feel good about. Some decisions might need to be 51% to 49%, with the partner who cares more about that specific issue taking a slight lead. Don't be a bulldozer and expect that you should win them all. Be willing to say you are sorry.

Couples most often fight about a few things: physical intimacy, money, time,children,
and extended family relationships. I want couples I work with to feel that there isn't anything that can't talk through. The secret to a happy life as a couple is choosing a mature, loving, and kind partner and treating them extremely well. Now that is really winning in my book.

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