By Tracy Lamperti, Psychotherapist
One of the most common ways that common couples get into trouble is by not properly addressing conflict.
Everyone would agree that fighting all the time is going to end up in a break up, eventually. It is the silent fighting that can go on for years that eventually leads to either a break up for a couple that looked “fine,” or an emotionless and devoid of passion couple that just agrees to stay together for the “sake of the children” or for financial reasons, or just because it’s easier than the process of divorce.
I think I can speak for most of the Cape Cod Mommies in saying that, “We want the real deal and we want it into old age and with the same person!” We have a pretty consistent divorce rate holding just below the 50% mark. In the past decade there has been a new school of thought among older adolescents and young woman that it is better to never get married than to have to get divorced. But that is not what this post is about, so I’ll take that on at a later date.
All couples have conflicts or “fights” at one time or another. When couples brush issues under the rug, it is like a slow leak. Eventually, things will be ruined. It is as if water is dripping into a bucket and you hardly notice it. Suddenly, you look and notice that it has overflowed and everything is soaked.
· One little issue builds on another.
· Resentment grows.
· Words in your own head go from neutral to negative.
· Intimacy grows less frequent.
· Time together diminishes.
· Emotion and passion falls away.
Why do couples brush it under the rug?
· It’s not a good time for a fight.
· I don’t want to start a fight.
· It will take too much effort.
· No one listens to me anyway.
· It won’t do any good
· Someone is stubborn.
· I’ll be criticized.
· There is no solution anyway.
The ground rules for “Fighting Fair”
1. Arrange a time. “I’ve got something on my mind. Would it be ok if we talk after the children go to bed?” Or as something is getting heated, “Let’s pick a time to talk about this when… (1) we aren’t so heated, or (2) when the children aren’t around.” For people who have trouble containing anxiety, this will be a challenge, but is so necessary.
2. Face each other and approach the time in good faith rather than full of steam.
3. Address ONE topic. If you want the best chance to be successful, don’t unleash a laundry list of issues on your partner. It won’t go well. ONE issue.
4. If you are the type who leans on the gas in a merge situation, when easing off the gas would solve the
problem, you might want to rethink that. Rewards come with humility and love. Easing off the gas is not equivalent to being a pushover. Listening carefully and trying to understand the other person is not equivalent to being a pushover. Keep it respectful.
5. Try to listen carefully and understand where your partner is coming from. If you are having trouble understanding, ask questions or repeat what they have said. For example, “I’m not sure if I understand. It sounds like you are saying….Do I understand you correctly?”
6. Be careful about your filters. Sometimes a person can say, “I just really need some time with the guys.
You know, shooting darts, having a beer, fishing…” We hear, “You like them better than me. You would rather be with them than the children and I.”
7. Keep it clean. You know your spouse. You probably know a good amount of where they are sensitive.
Don’t go for the jugular. You will kill the fight.
8. Never interrupt. Let the person finish. Contain yourself. When they finish, you can have a turn. If they interrupt, kindly say,“please let me finish.”
9. Remember, all of the things you tell yourself, in your own head, about your partner, when you are mad
or hurt, are not necessarily fact. Try not to let these things build up and become your reality.
10. The best place for fighting fair is the bathroom. Someone sits on the can (with the seat down of course :) ) and the other sits on the edge of the tub, or something like that. This plan disrupts your usual dynamic, brings you each to the table on more neutral ground and lightens the mood. “Meet me in the bathroom at 9:30 :) ” Pick your own creative spot, but not near where children are sleeping if the tension might be high. Walls are thin and children are sensitive.
As Valentine’s Day, the day of love approaches, fight fair and be healthy in your relationship with your partner. If you need help, seek help.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC
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