All couples experience conflict, but contrary to pop culture and pop psychology, not all couples “fight.” While disagreements are inevitable, healthy, committed couples often find ways to engage in these disagreements in a healthy, constructive way before the disagreement becomes an actual “fight.”
“‘Fighting fair’ from my perspective is still fighting,” says psychologist Susan Heitler, PhD. She’s addressing the common misunderstanding that all couples fight, and one must fight in a fair and positive way. “My own belief is that emotionally mature and skillful couples don't fight at all. When they are mad, they pause to calm down. They then deal with the sensitive issue via quiet, cooperative talking.”
“Here's better marriage advice about fighting: Don't fight,” advises Heitler. “Marriage fights, that is, arguing at any level of intensity, reflect a breakdown in partnership. It means you have switched to a stance of being opponents, arguing for yourself and against your partner. Fighting is adversarial dialogue; the goal is to win, not to build mutual understanding. A zero-fighting policy makes couples far happier. That doesn’t imply that differences should be swept under the rug. To the contrary, no-fighting policies need to be combined with solid collaborative win-win dialogue skills.”
A Better Approach to Disagreements
There are two healthy stages to true conflict resolution without dissolving into an angry fight.
The first and best approach is approaching the disagreement with the authentic, honest intention of learning and evolving.
Here's the thing: In the words of Marianne Williamson, your relationship is a laboratory in which the Holy Spirit evolves you and grows you. In other words, the relationship is a safe, sacred place for you to become a better person and help your partner evolve in their journey too.
Thus, a conflict is a holy moment to look at a situation and learn what it is you can do to meet your partner where he or she is, and encourage each other along your paths.
The goal is to learn what to do to make each other happier and more fully aligned with your own unique purposes and passions. The goal is NOT about learning what to do to manipulate or control the situation (which is what many couples attempt to do).
But what happens if one or both of you aren’t in a mindset of wanting to learn in the heat of the moment? If that’s occurring, move into the second phase: Peaceful, loving disengagement.
If your energies and emotions simply aren't lining up right now, loving disengagement is when one or both of you prioritize yourself and your own self-care over the urge to be "right" or defend your "turf" in a disagreement.
The goal here is to step away from the disagreement to focus on yourself and to do things that make you feel loved and open, versus resentful and closed off. This might even take the form of doing things that “fix” the situation over which you’re chronically fighting, such as hiring a housekeeper to clean up after a chronically messy partner.
It might seem selfish, but this act of self-care and self-love is really about empowering you to stay connected to your partner and open to your partner, versus building up walls of resentment or anger. You can then focus your emotional energy on what matters in your relationship, versus always fighting about things that are inconsequential in the long run.
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