Arguing again with your significant other? Dr Michelle Brody, author of new book Stop The Fight has priceless advice to help you learn to fight smart
No matter how many steps you’ve taken to ensure that you and your partner don’t fight, problems in your relationship are bound to happen. Whether it’s taking the garbage out or jealousy, conflicts can’t be avoided. Michelle Brody, is author of new book Stop the Fight! (£10.99, amazon.co.uk) about how to solve the 12 most common arguments that couples have before they even start. Here are some of her best lessons to take home this weekend.
Make balanced compromises
If you’re choosing to work a fight out by compromising make sure the agreement satisfies on both ends. A solution that solves each of the partner’s problems halfway leaves both people feeling dissatisfied and resentful. Instead, finding a way to embrace both peoples’ values behind their side of the argument, and then creating a mutually adequate compromise, might work better to keep the same fight from happening again. Take a typical fight about money. If one person is a spender and the other is a saver, compromising can leave each person’s values neglected. When choosing to compromise in a fight about money:
Don’t say: Let’s spend half and save half of your annual bonus.
Do say: Why don’t we save the bonus this year to pay off debt, and then go on a really nice vacation next year?
Recognize the teacher-learner dynamic in your relationship
Giving advice can bring on a teacher-learner fight. ‘Advice-givers often have excellent intentions—all they want to do is help—but the act of feedback can, paradoxically, create a wedge of difference between partners,’ Brody said. If you’re the advice-giver, changing the way you phrase a recommendation to your partner is key. By making the subject the problem your partner is facing, rather than what they’re doing wrong, they might not feel targeted by your advice, and truly take it to heart.
Don’t say: One of you is having trouble sleeping because you eat too late at night – ‘If you stop eating earlier, you’ll sleep better.’
Do say: ‘I can see that you’re having trouble sleeping and I’m worried about you. Do you want to try eating earlier meals together and see if that helps your sleep patterns become more normal?’
Speak up when your lover hurts your feelings
Insults can be easily spoken, or shouted, during a tense argument. The knee-jerk reaction to an insult is to retaliate with more harsh words, but this creates a useless cycle. No problems are being solved because both people are now mad about the words said and the original problem. Next time you’re in a heated fight with your loved one, try expressing your hurt feelings when an insult gets slipped. The other person might feel bad about what they said, giving the argument a chance to move away from feelings of anger and on to a solution.
Don’t say: Well you’re even worse; you sit on the couch all day getting fat!
Do say: Wow, that made me feel bad. Do you mean it?
Know when you’re on the defensive
Everyone gets defensive at times, especially in a fight. Who wouldn’t guard their side of the argument when it’s being threatened? Dr. Brody says this response is due to the body’s fight-or-flight response, which no one is immune to. To catch the reflex, it’s important for you and your partner to understand when each other are being defensive. Identifying defensive behavior allows the argument to move past an unproductive stage, and into a conversation toward solving the problem. For example, take a couple fighting about a birthday. One partner wants a big deal made for their birthday, while the other doesn’t understand the need to celebrate for something that happens every year. The first partner then seems controlling, when she’s trying to keep from being hurt. The second partner feels controlled and hurts the other partner unintentionally.
Don’t say: Why is your birthday such a big deal to you?
Do say: I’m sorry I don’t always do what you want for your birthday. I understand that you feel like I don’t care. Is that it?
Spot when caring is the motivator
The reason for fighting with your lover most often stems from the fact that both of you care about each other, and in turn want the best. Another fight about caring is insecurity that one person doesn’t care enough about the other. Dr. Brody calls fights about caring “The Fight of All Fights.” To stop this common fight trigger, you first need to realize that misinterpretation plays a huge role. When one partner does something, for example not taking out the trash, the other may assume they don’t care about the cleanliness of the house or how much work the other person has to do, when really they just forgot to take out the trash. Taking a step back to see what point of view you’re interpreting from can keep fights from happening. On the other hand, the partner who isn’t taking out the trash can work to realize what bad impacts his actions have on the amount of care in the relationship.
Don’t say: ‘It’s not that big of a deal when I don’t take out the trash; you could do it just as easily’.
Do say: I’m sorry I forget to take out the trash sometimes. I’m not intentionally trying to make you feel used, and I’ll try to do better.
Michelle Brody, Ph.D., is an executive coach and clinical psychologist who has been practicing couples therapy for over 20 years. she specializes in conflict resolution. She also founded Coaching for Couples, a model for time-efficient relationship change.