HOW TO FIGHT
Everyone fights in a relationship. You certainly don’t need the 5 steps on how to fight but if you did…
Step One: Accuse your spouse of messing up.
Step Two: When they get defensive yell a bit louder.
Step Three: I’m kidding, I’m kidding…
How many people are looking for books on how to fight mean but there’s several to help you overcome conflict. Why is it so hard to repair after a fight? Why do we need so much help?
FAMILY OF ORIGINS
Most likely your parent’s role models were still recovering from the affects of the war on their parents and/or making it through The Depression. Their parents were all about survival mode and didn’t have the time, energy nor the resources to understand how this PTSD would be passed down generation after generation.
I don’t fault our parents for not guiding us on how to recover after conflict but the responsibility is now on us. When you know better you do better.
Have you noticed that you either normalized your conflict behavior from your upbringing or you were repulsed by it and do the opposite? Normalizing the behavior explains why you can be so hurt from the conflict growing up but repeat the same patterns in your new family.
And for some people, they’re not even aware of the similarities but the damage continues to be the same.
FIGHT, FLEE OR FREEZE
Now if you’re like me (Danielle) my tendency is to ignore conflict. If you ignore it long enough it goes away, right?! Or perhaps you’re like Russ, you meet it straight on, verbally attack it and then hug within seconds. Everyone’s natural tendency is either to fight, flee or freeze.
So how do you undo these natural tendencies? Patience and perseverance…and a formulaic approach that actually helps you reconnect after a fight. Russ and I are not smart enough to come up with these steps. Dr. John Gottman gets all the credit!
Russ and I were shocked at how well these repair steps worked. We would experience feeling even closer after conflict. This was certainly nothing we had experienced growing up.
We’ve led almost 100 couples through this formula and have watched how powerful it is in reuniting couples.
REPAIR AFTER CONFLICT
- Start by asking yourself, “What was my role in the conflict?” – “Why am I so angry?” – “Why was I so hurt?” Hint: The answer to these questions is typically the same answer.
- Once you can see your role and can take responsibility for your part, you’re ready to have a conversation with your spouse. Come together and provide emotional safety (ie: don’t get defensive) Use “I” statements not “You” statements to describe how you felt. No accusations. For example, I was worried when you came into the room because you seemed angry. VS You walked in the room like a madman!
- After they describe their perspective, the listening spouse validates their feelings. “I can understand why you felt that way.” – “I can see why that hurt you.” This is where couples go off the rails and have a tendency to become defensive. Remember you don’t have to agree with their reality but you can agree with their hurt. For example, I can feel ignored by Russ and he will think otherwise but he can still agree with my reality of feeling hurt.
- The listening spouse then asks, “What could I have done differently?” – “What would you like me to do next time?” Come up with a shared solution.
A FEW AFTERTHOUGHTS
P.S. Men lead by asking your wife to share her story/her perspective of the conflict first. Set an example of how to be emotionally safe.
P.S.S. – Do not say “I’m sorry.” Instead say, “I was wrong for …. list out specifics. Never say I’m sorry IF (fill in the blank) hurt you. That is a weak cowardly apology.
P.S.S.S. The higher the intensity of the fight the more it’s about what’s inside of us than what our spouse did to us. For example, I (Danielle) like to be silly. Sometimes it will embarrass Russ. His overreactions to my silliness are magnified because of his family of origin similarities. His magnified response does not match the level of whatever I did to embarrass him. Does that make sense?
Have you tried these steps? Would you be willing to share your results below?
See a video of Russ and I walking through these steps on our YouTube Channel.