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Fighting Fair in Relationships that matter

If you are in an ongoing relationship of any sort, whether it be with a parent, child, relative, friend, co-worker or significant other, it is likely that you have argued or fought with that person. In some cases, it may be an isolated incident or occurs rarely.

Other relationships are practically characterized by arguing and fighting. Some arguments are executed calmly while others can be loud and disarming. Some end in resolution while others stop abruptly when one person storms out of the room.

The manner of communicating during a fight as well as the style of conflict resolution is determined in part by the type of relationship with that person. You probably argue differently with your partner than you do with a co-worker.

For example, if a co-worker does something that bothers you, you might mention it in a calm, respectful manner, whereas if your partner did the same thing, you might explode.

When two people argue on a regular basis, each learns what the others’ “buttons” are.

We all have different buttons that, when pushed, produce an expected result. I like to think of it as a control panel on our torso. When the other person begins to push, it is not easy to produce a reaction that is different from the usual reaction. When Debbie and Chris argue, Debbie sometimes laughs nervously.

This makes Chris even angrier. She admitted in a session that there are times when she will purposely giggle when he is mad just to enrage him further. Chris gets loud and animated and turns red in the face. He knows that when he raises his voice (and on occasion will break something), she leaves the house.

I am pretty certain he does this intentionally at times as well. Both know how to make the other even madder when they are arguing.

This causes a really unhealthy cycle where instead of trying to resolve the argument each will shift from the original topic to trying to infuriate the other. They begin to act almost child-like, talking over each other, shouting at the top of their lungs, and pushing each others’ buttons.

Another couple I worked with was blending families. It was a second marriage and each had a child from a previous relationship.

They argued about how to do things around the house, what type of food to buy and of course how to raise, rather discipline, the kids.

When they first came in, they spent a good deal of time arguing in session. What started as a story about a past argument turned into somewhat petty name calling. I intervened at that point and we discussed the pattern. He would get frustrated with her and instead of responding, he said “lower your voice.”

I could see the look in her eye when he said this. She had heard it a thousand times before. She said “this is what he does. He begins to shift into telling me I am too loud and he knows when he does that it makes me want to yell even louder!”

I work with couples to do several things surrounding arguments. One is setting rules. I ask couples to work together to come up with rules for fair fighting. There are guidelines couples can put into place that can lessen the impact of an argument.

When appropriate, I will mention no name calling as an item for their list. We discuss the impact of calling someone a name. Name calling is never ok so I feel that is something that has to be on every couples list. We talk about resolution. One instance I hear quite often is that one person wants to walk away during an intense fight while the other wants to resolve it in that moment.

I urge couples to find middle ground though I also believe that separating temporarily (even just in separate rooms) is a good way for both people to calm down before communicating further. I have couples sit and think about personal rules.

After several sessions Mike and Sue made a rule that when an argument begins to get heated, they “table it” and wait until later.

Once time has passed, they say that they find that neither of them is still as upset and they are able to talk calmly.

If you are in a relationship and find that you are fighting more often than before, or it has gotten more intense as time as passed, you and your partner may want to consider making a list of rules.

Though it is not always easy to adhere to the rules at first, if both people put forth effort, in time these rules become second nature. Sometimes couples need a third person to facilitate and that is where a therapist comes in.

I am passionate about helping couples learn healthy ways to disagree with each other and resolve conflict. If you feel that you and your partner would benefit from a couples counseling session, please drop me a message -

I would be happy to meet with you individually or as a couple so we can begin to find new ways for you to communicate.

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