by Emily Morris
Fighting is not essentially unhealthy or destructive to our relationships; the way it is approached, however, may be. Research shows that some couples with successful marriages fight just as often as those whose marriages end in divorce. The difference lies in the content of these arguments. Couples with happy marriages use different tactics throughout to prove points and reach a resolution. We contacted local experienced therapists, Gary Watson of Turning Point Therapy and Kerry Hart of Grand Rapids Natural Health, to shed light on this topic.
“Whatever you’re looking for, you’re going to find more of that,” Watson said. “So if you’re looking for the good traits in your partner, you’re going to see more.” This first piece of advice seems to fit with a concept used in mindfulness training: whatever we focus on expands. Our minds are powerful. We can easily spiral into negativity or boost our moods by giving ourselves a pep talk. If we think about our partner’s good traits before opening our mouths to argue, we will probably choose more loving words and thus, lessen the intensity of the fight.
Hart shares a similar view, mentioning how something as simple as the approach can make the difference between healthy and toxic. “Should a partner find something questionable they wish to speak to the other about, the mere tone they use can put their partner in defensive mode,” she said. “In a trusting partnership, it’s more important to remember who the person is that you have chosen to be with, as opposed to whatever nightmares are swirling in your head.”
When couples argue in his office, Watson said, he redirects the conversation to what is truly important to each party. What does each person want from the other? He allows each party to articulate their needs clearly, without interruption from the other. Practicing this tactic at home will ensure that the communication lines are open. Then, you can begin to work on a compromise. Watson stressed the importance of putting yourself in your partner’s shoes here. Understanding your partner’s perspective is essential to building a healthy relationship.
Another tactic Watson uses is called The Miracle Question: If you woke up tomorrow and everything was perfect between you two, what would your relationship look like? The answer Watson usually gets is both heartbreaking and beautiful: he said most couples say that their partner would wake up, turn, and smile at them. They said this small act would change the entire trajectory of their day.
Of course, this points to the most effective habit couples can use to avoid fighting: showing appreciation for each other. “My best advice is to be patient with your partner, and remind yourself why you are committed to them,” said Hart. “There have been times when you have appreciated them very much, and it’s important to remind yourself of those times in your angriest moments.” Although we may sometimes forget it, a quick smile or squeeze makes a person feel loved. However, if you are in the middle of a nasty fight with your partner, what should you do? Here are some quick, straightforward tips that you can employ to resolve things:
It is difficult to let emotions take over the fight if even just one party decides to lower their voice. This tactic also forces the other person to listen carefully, and it often causes him or her to lower their voice too. Plus, if there are kids around, this benefits the whole family.
Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Simply restating your partner’s feelings back to him or her will quell a lot of the anger and frustration between you two. This act shows your partner that you are listening, and you understand their perspective.
Narrow your focus to the present issue.
Bringing up last year’s blow-out over who bought which gifts for whom is not going to get you anywhere. Instead, commit to discussing only the current issue and agree never to keep score. Setting these rules together before a fight occurs can prevent arguments from escalating.
Take turns describing your “preferred future.”
Watson said that he often asks couples what their preferred future is. He has them paint a picture with a lot of detail in their minds; if they envision it, he said, they are more likely to make it happen. Many times couples will find that their visions have more in common with their partner’s than they may have guessed.
Create a resolution ritual.
“People’s intentions are good, but they don’t want to leave the fight unfinished. They want a resolution,” Watson said. In therapy sessions, he helps couples put plans into place for when an especially volatile fight happens at home. He said the most important part of these plans is the resolution. Even if part of this process involves one person taking a walk around the block to cool down, the other partner should be informed of when the first will be home. This helps couples demonstrate respect for each other even when they disagree.
Creating a routine that you both enjoy doing at the end of a disagreement will ensure that you both walk away with positive feelings towards the other person. Deciding to watch an episode of your favorite show together or share a bowl of ice cream post-conflict will give you both peace of mind and strengthen
Emily is a Michigan-based writer, poet, and social media consultant. She also works as the Communications Director of the non-profit project El Sueño (“The Dream”).