The Good Fight: 
How to keep arguments from getting out of control.

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Why is it there are some couples who always butt heads...and other couples who get along with little friction? From early childhood we learn about conflict from our interactions with others. Our conflict management style begins to evolve through our unique experiences with others based on wants, needs, likes, and dislikes. Tension or conflict arises when we expect others to be like us and judge and blame each other for our differences.

No matter what we call it—conflict, fighting, arguing, quarreling or disagreeing, in most relationships, differences eventually arise and for many of us it creates some uneasiness. But having the Good Fight, if handled well, can transform relationships and improve our understanding of each other. When managed badly, conflict can result in damaged friendships, severed relationships, and long-lasting hostility.

Understanding Conflict

Terry Real, in his book, “How Can I Get Through To You?” describes the essential rhythm of a relationship as going from Harmony to Disharmony to Restoration. In relationships it isn’t a matter of IF there is going to be conflict (disharmony) but HOW you are going to handle that conflict so that you can restore (restoration) it back to a harmonious (harmony) state. Ask yourself "What kind of "fighter" am I”?  Do you...?

  • think expressing negativity just makes things worse?

  • pick your battles carefully?

  • prefer to agree to disagree?

  • get really mad and then the insults fly?

  • avoid conflict at all costs?

  • hit "below the belt" and regret it later?

  • often feel you are about one millisecond away from exploding when you argue?

  • find that arguing stresses you out, so when faced with a fight, you usually withdraw and hide your real feelings?

  • listen to your partner’s point of view?

  • have trouble sticking to the issue at hand and often bring up things from the past that has annoyed you?

  • feel that any disagreement is an attack on you?

How you answer this fundamental question “What type of fighter are you” can determine a great deal about how you can keep arguments from getting out of control. 
There are three basic styles of conflict management:

Validating Style: couples compromise often and calmly work out their problems to a mutual satisfaction as they arise.
Pitfall: may turn the relationship into a passionless arrangement in which romance and self-hood is sacrificed for friendship and togetherness.

Conflict-Minimizing Style: couples agree to disagree, rarely confronting their differences head-on.
Pitfall: leaves a couple unschooled in how to bring up important issues in their relationship. These couples need to learn what issues are worth getting into.

Eruptive Style: couples quarrel frequently, conflicts blow up often, resulting in heated disputes.
Pitfall: negativity and constant fighting can take over. When you fight about everything you fight about nothing. These couples need to learn how to let go of certain issues.

Some people like to fight...others avoid it like the plague. No one style is better than another is. It is not what you fight about but how you fight that creates the greatest impact on couples. So ask yourself “Do I have a different style than my spouse? Am I a conflict avoider and my spouse is more eruptive? Do I think my spouse is wrong for being different?”

Solvable and Perpetual Problems

There are two main types of conflict in romantic relationships those that can be resolved and those that are perpetual. 69% of all marital conflict falls into the perpetual category. Most couples treat their problems as if they are solvable. Couples need to find a way to deal with the unbudgeable problems so that these obstacles don’t overwhelm them.

Couples may not welcome these perpetual problems with open arms, but they need to find ways to cope with then, to avoid situations that make them worse, and to develop strategies and routines that help them cope with the perpetual problems in their relationship.

Preventing Conflicts

The best way to keep arguments from getting out of control is prevention. Prevention is the conscious steps you take day to day to keep connected in order for you and your spouse to resolve issues as they come up. 

The Magic Number 

Most couples tend to put the blame for conflicts on the topic of disagreement, finances, in-laws, not taking the garbage out, when actually, conflict arises when there is a general climate of negativity in the relationship.

Simple Rule: Focus on what you like about your spouse and you will have more of what you like in your relationship.

Concentrate on creating positive interactions with your spouse. Relationship researchers suggest a 5:1 ratio. That means for every ONE negative interaction there needs to be FIVE positive ones to keep the relation-ship in balance. 

Weekly Relationship Meeting

Schedule a weekly relationship meeting. All couples need to have a routine for helping each other stay focused or accountable for the health of their relationship.

  • Make a commitment to meet weekly.

  • Keep the meeting to less than one hour.

  • Connect with your partner. Face each other, hold hands, and make eye contact.

  • Agree on who will start and begin by taking three minutes to say what’s on your mind. 

  • The speaker speaks while the listener listens without getting defensive or accusatory.

  • The listener asks the speaker what they need out of this conversation. Talk about things that matter.

  • Discuss future ways to manage these feelings or the concern that is being addressed. Work towards compromise. Switch speaker listener roles and repeat the process. 

  • Plan some fun after each meeting.

The First 30 Seconds  

Research shows that what happens in the first 30 seconds of a conversation can greatly determine the positive or negative outcome of that conversation. Which means that if you start negative you’ll finish negative. Since women initiate about 85% of conversations regarding conflict in the relationship they are vulnerable to starting harshly. Consider carefully the tone and content of your opening remarks. 

Nine ways NOT to begin a conversation:

1. “You always...”

2. “You never...”

3. “Why can’t you just...”

4. “You’re not listening...”

5. “You just don’t get it...”

6. “What, this again...”

7. “You have to understand...”

8. “How long is this going to take?”

9. “Everyone else...”

Calming and Active Argument

The best strategy for managing an already heated fight is to take a structured time out. If the fight is getting nowhere and your getting angrier and going in circles suggest a cool down break. Here are some guidelines:

  • I have to take a break. Can we check in with each other in twenty minutes”? Then walk away, go for a walk, or put on some music. 

  • Calm yourself down and think positive thoughts about your spouse. Think about what you really want to say or what you need. 

  • Come back at the agreed upon time and if one of you is not ready to talk take another cool down break. Agree on another time to meet up. 

  • Remember it is important to THINK POSITIVELY about your spouse during the cool down break.

Repair Attempts

Believe it or not couples can take steps during a fight to turn down the intensity of the argument so that they can stay connected and listen to one another. Here are some ideas:

Editing: reply only to the constructive portions of your partner’s comments. Try cutting out the negative in your response.

Humor: used appropriately it can diffuse a tense situation.

Affection: being understanding, empathetic, or validating is a profoundly effective way to repair communication.

Take 100 Percent Responsibility

When both members of a couple “own” the entire argument, the ability to fix what went wrong will be increased twofold. Working together to heal a rift is the quickest and easiest way to have The Good Fight. 

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Contact Julienne Derichs 
Call 773-562-3074 or 
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Julienne Derichs LCPC

Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling Serving  
Highland Park, Lake Forest, Deerfield, Lincolnshire, Illinois
 Couples Counseling Today
    ...Creating Healthy Relationships Since 1997
Phone 773-562-3074
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