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What are the rules for when couples fight

December 6, 2012

By Chantelle K. Dockter,
MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of CCCOW,

Question: I often think my husband and I have a great relationship until we get into a fight, at which point we attack each other and self destruct. How can we improve the way we disagree?

Answer: Let’s face it; there are times that disagreements, conflict, and yes “fights” are a part of life, especially a part of marriage. Reducing the frequency of conflict is always a healthy goal, however it is unrealistic to think that it is possible to eliminate conflict altogether. Couples greatly benefit from working hard to reduce the intensity and destructiveness of conflict, and to realize that done right, conflict can actually be a healthy thing that we can grow from.

There are many basic guidelines that we can adhere to that will improve the effectiveness of our conflict/resolution, in our marriages as well as our other relationships. The list is long…we will take a look at just a few. I encourage each couple I work with to come up with their own list, as each person has specific areas that they struggle with. In order for “fighting” to be effective rather than damaging, both parties must feel physical and emotional safety.

1. No name-calling, cussing, or put-downs. The above demonstrates an aggressive rather than assertive approach and immediately puts the other party on the defensive. Hurtful words/names are seared into the memory long after the argument is forgotten. We cannot take back our words, so monitoring them before they come out is the wisest.

2. Time-outs are okay. Rules should be established and followed with this one. The person calling the time-out does so to take a period of time to cool down, and is responsible for clearly stating they need a time-out rather than just abandoning the situation. This person is also the one who needs to initiate reconvening the discussion in a timely manner.

3. Throw out the silent treatment. Purposefully ignoring or refusing to speak to your partner (unless they are behaving in a threatening way) is juvenile and will only lead to more conflict. The silent treatment demonstrates a power/control struggle.

4. Stick to the topic at hand. It is so easy to resurrect to life every issue you have ever been mad about, and jump from one problem to the next. Resist this, as it only overwhelms both parties and makes hope hard to find.

5. Make “I” statements. Making “you” statements causes the other person to feel attacked and be on the defensive. It comes across as accusatory. Rather than saying, “You make me so mad when you come home late!” try “I feel hurt and disappointed when you come home late”. Put the emphasis on yourself; your needs, feelings, and wants.

6. Don’t reject repair attempts. This one deserves an article all of its’ own. To sum it up, if your partner makes a repair attempt, respond to it. It takes a lot to put your pride aside and make an effort to re-connect. Repair attempts will start to dwindle if they are ignored or brushed off.

This list goes on and on, but you get the idea. I leave you with this question to ponder….Is it more important for you to be right, or to be reconciled?

By Chantelle K. Dockter,
MA, Licensed Professional Counselor
Associate of CCCOW,

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Discuss this article

Jenn December 6, 2012

I just detest to the highest order the name calling. It burns me up and there aint no talking me down.

Sally Fouts December 6, 2012

Name calling takes it from an argument into people tearing each other down. No one comes out the better for it. Just two busted up spirits getting worse in my eyes.

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