How To Keep Fights Fair in Your Relationship and Resolve Issues in Record Time - Not That It's A Race.
09.19.22 | TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Recently, after witnessing how another couple argues and talks about their arguments, my wife and I were expressing gratitude toward one another for the way we 'fight' and handle bumps in the road.
Have you ever started sharing about how you’re bickering in a relationship or what's causing fighting in relationships, and then that one person comes in on their high horse with the judgmental face and says, “oh, we never fight…” and then you end up wanting to fight THEM?
Ever notice how that reaction shows up so automatically?
More often than not, this reaction happens in the blink of an eye, without us even thinking about it…
…and it can happen with most (if not all) people we talk to, whether you’re discussing an issue with your partner or sharing within ear-shot of the snarky acquaintance someone brought to brunch.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a couple ways to assess for yourself, whether the fights in your relationship are healthy.
Plus, I'll give you three of my favorite tips for fighting fair in a relationship.
Personally, I wouldn't say, 'we never fight', but most of the time, my wife and I tend to describe those moments (when everything isn't sunshine and roses) as us having disagreements or conflicts... miscommunications or misalignments... there's just something about the word fight that just doesn't feel correct for us, but I have zero judgement for people who DO use that word if it feels right.
There are so many ways people speak about those rocky moments anyway. For example, we hardly ever bicker but I could say we've had arguments, right? If we're both presenting our own perspectives, that term works... but you could also call that a debate, couldn't you?
Even down to the words we use to talk about it.
It's important is to determine what's healthy and okay for you and your relationship.
When couples argue constantly, it can be so natural to want to judge (from the outside or even as one of the people in the relationship itself). If you’re someone who finds you experience a lot of arguments in relationships, you might start questioning things yourself. You might start asking yourself (and/or googling in the middle of the night) questions like:
Is arguing normal in a relationship?
Is arguing healthy in a relationship?
Is fighting in a relationships healthy?
My answer to these questions? It depends.
All of those questions are completely valid to be exploring, but I'm curious. If you're asking them, do you know how to determine for yourself what's 'normal' and healthy in your relationship? Do you feel confident about knowing what works for you and speaking up for that?
We're often taught that there are norms that apply to all relationships and should work for all people, even when it comes to fighting in relationships.
I'm sure you've heard norms at every end of the spectrum, from people who say you should never fight, to those who say a little fighting is normal, to those who think the more you fight, the more passion you must have...
But like I often say... there's no one size fits all answer here. And if you've been trying to measure up the conflicts in your relationship to some norm, here's your invitation to step off the hamster wheel of comparison once again.
What feels normal and healthy for me and my wife, has nuance, and might not feel normal and healthy for you and your partner(s).
Some questions to ask yourself instead:
Assuming arguments are normal for us, what might a healthy argument look like?
Which arguments are most important to engage with and why?
What do we fight about most often? Is it about the things that are most important?
When fights happen, how do we reconcile and do we usually resolve the issue?
Would you and your partner(s) agree on the answers to these questions?
If there's someone you're always arguing with, maybe it's time to sit down for a chat about the nature of your fighting (while everyone is calm and has their nervous system regulated)
Speaking of calm discussions where you feel safe and grounded...
If you have constant fighting in a relationship, it might be time to become a bit more self-aware, so you can actually manage conflicts in a way that feels healthy and actually moves the relationship forward. Because as we know, the only thing we can control is ourselves and how we choose to respond to and engage with the people/world around us.
I am the SO non-confrontational but when someone looks like they’re judging you or not listening, especially in a moment when you’re trying to open up or vent - it’s only natural for your defenses to go up because you feel vulnerable and unsafe, like you're on your own or under attack.
So how do we keep from becoming nasty or combative when this happens?
Because although it may feel good to throw a jab in the moment, we all know it doesn't do anything to solve whatever issue you're having.
In fact, it tends to distract from the issue itself and open up the flood gates for you both to try and hurt each other. Not the most productive approach.
Before we talk about some ways you can go about fighting fair in a relationship, I want to address those of you who might be in the: 'no fighting or no relationship' camp.
I totally get it. If you feel unsafe in a relationship to navigate through conflicts, then it is totally fine to bail. If you feel like this person wants to pick fights with you or take out their feelings on you and disturb your inner peace? By all means, get out of there. And if the drama doesn't feel worth all the fuss, then safe travels onto your next chapter.
HOWEVER. If you are in a place where you have a strong foundation, and you know you are in alignment with this person, but avoid conflicts all together, I'd invite you to investigate if there are things that you are sweeping under the rug. Things that may be important to one or both of you, while using the excuse that you don't want anyone to get upset, yourself included
Practicing a zen mindset is all well and good, but unless you actually live on a mountain or in a monastery, life happens.
And sometimes, whatever is causing the disruption, is not even something one of you did. The world and interactions with other people outside of your relationship can cause friction too, and there's no way to control when that happens or what buttons it might press in either of you.
WOAH WOAH WOAH. wait wait wait. Are relationships supposed to be hard? Are relationships supposed to be stressful?
I'm saying life can be hard, and life can be stressful. It's just the nature of being a human on this tiny blue dot, whether you're in a relationship or not.
The question becomes, given there will always be things that go wrong in life and there will always be things that trigger or activate you, is this person someone you want to weather the storm with?
Are you aligned on your values and vision for the future, in such a way that makes you feel safe enough to grow through the discomfort, navigate the uncomfy waters, and overcome and hurdles life throws your way?
If the answer is yes, then buckle up for my three favorite tips for fighting fair in relationships . . .
But first, a few photos from that time we drove around the entire island of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin on a quad.
"It'll be easy," they said, "just go straight," they said, "follow the road."
Was it easy? Eh.
Did we get lost more than once?
But it was also worth it and there's no one else I'd rather share these adventures with, big and small. Whether the unknown territory is a new island or a new conversation, I know we'll see it through because we're a team.
My favorite tips for fighting fair:
1. Have Regular Relationship Check-ins, to set yourself up for success and stay accountable for the growth of the relationship.
Speak about conflict early in the relationship (at a time and place where everyone feels grounded and has a regulated nervous system - ie not in survival mode) and then continuing to speak about it often. Create dedicated time to debrief about what's working, what's not working, and what's next in your relationship. How often and how structured will depend on you, but this practice will serve you in two ways:
You'll have a space to check-in and address issues regularly, so they don't pile up or get swept under the rug.
You'll have a space to work on the way you fight and improve your communication as a whole, instead of just assuming is should be perfect or get better on its own.
Conflict resolution can be something that you work on as a team on-goingly, just as important as the other aspects of your relationship. Right up there with your sex life, your shared future, and the effort you put in to support, connect, and have new experiences together.
2. Knowing and Not Knowing, so that you can be kind and curious along the way.
Knowing - your own triggers and patterns, and the ones your partner has shared with you. That way, you can be a team and both hold the responsibility to try and be gentle toward each person's tender parts as much as possible, and clean it up if they get unnecessarily poked. It's also very useful to share how you react in a stressful situation - what can your partner expect to see when you're 'at your worst' or in survival mode?
Not knowing - my wife and I put this one in our wedding vows. "I promise to never know you." This allows space for everyone in the relationship to show up newly. It allows space for curiosity and expansion, and avoids the assumptions and preconceptions that can cause extra hurt and difficulty when you're already in a challenging situation.
3. Create Agreements, so that everyone is clear about their own boundaries and the rules of engagement.
You'll want to come up with terms that are aligned for your relationship and work for you, but I'll share a few of our agreements as examples: we both agree not to call each other derogatory names/curse at each other in a nasty way during a conflict (yes we can take a joke at other times), not to keep score or play tit for tat, not to bring up past issues that have already been discussed and resolved.
The Power of the Pause - if one party is clearly dis-regulated, the other can check-in and ask them if they'd like to pause, get grounded in their body and mind again, and then resume the conversation. If both/all people are becoming combative or defensive or not listening to each other, it's even more important to pause. This might be challenging for those who like to resolve things right away (I know I had a learning curve myself) but once you lean into the practice, it can really benefit the relationship and make conflict resolution more efficient in the long run. If you pause, the idea is that you can agree to check-in after a certain amount of time to see if more time is needed to settle or if it works to continue working toward a resolution
Bonus Tip: Set up support outside the relationship (with yourself and others).
Have a self-care menu ready in case you need to self-regulate during a disagreement and have at least one person you can speak to (whether that's a coach, therapist, friend) who will listen to you without judgement and allow you to vent and be heard if/when it's not appropriate or possible for your partner to hear you out in that moment.
The moral of the story? Teamwork makes the dream work.
When you and your partner create structures around conflict and stick to them, it becomes easier to find common ground. If you've got some ways to manage triggers and past patterns, then you can spend your energy in the place that really matters - moving through whatever the actual issue is. That way, you can get on the same page about why this issue matters to each of you, have compassion for the things that may be coming up, and work toward a resolution together.
Think, you and your partner vs. the problem,
instead of you and your partner vs. each other.
Where can you create more teamwork in your relationships?
What can you share with your partner about how you have been, are now, and want to be when it comes to conflicts?
Hi, I'm Michelle,
your judgement-free relationship guide.
I help seekers and creatives lean into their magic(k) — so they can have aligned relationships full of support, growth, and conscious communication.
"Working with Michelle was a very transformational experience for me. I really enjoyed her coaching style of probing questions, expansive exercises and keen listening. She helped me release attachments that were no longer serving me, as well as confront fears and limiting beliefs. I am living out a lot of what I had originally slated as a 5-year plan right now as a result, and it all feels a bit like a dream!" - Aruna Paramasivam