Fighting Too Much? How to Break the Cycle and Improve Your Relationship.
You wake up in the wee, small hours of the morning. Unable to sleep, you run through the argument, again, in your head. “Why do we always have to fight about this?” you wonder. “Why is he so angry? Why am I being so stubborn? Are we gonna make it? I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.”
Mark and I were in a stressful season of our marriage. If we were talking to each other, chances are the words were sharp and the tone even sharper. And it seemed as if we argued about the same things over and over.
A wise, trusted friend, advised me that the next time we began to argue, I should just lay down on the floor with my arms outstretched and say, “I give up! Uncle!” It sounded crazy, but I was desperate.
I figured I had nothing to lose.
That very evening, the arguing and sniping started in again. As I lay there on the floor, Mark just stared at me for a few moments then starting laughing.
“What on Earth are you doing?”, he asked. I started laughing and told him how I thought the idea was dumb, but I was willing to try anything to get beyond the aguing. It worked. We were laughing. I was also crying, this time from relief. But we weren’t fighting! We had broken the cycle and were able to talk about it.
The technique worked and was used a few more times before we discovered other ways to break our negative pattern of communication that didn’t include my laying on a dirty carpet.
The person you’re arguing with may think you’re crazy at first, but it breaks the negative cycle and diffuses the situation. In over thirty-five years of marriage, we have found that there are very few situations that cannot be improved with a healthy dose of humor.
Shake hands and come out arguing…but nicely.
Keep in mind that all couples argue. Yes, even that couple. Everyone argues because no two people are going to agree on everything. How boring would that be? Knowing that there are going to be disagreements and difficulties helps.
And if you, as a couple, will agree to a few simple ‘ground rules’, the disagreements will be more productive and will occur less frequently. Hint: You’re going to want to talk about your ‘ground rules’ when things are going smoothly.
Being calm and reasonable is key.
Fight? Okay. Flight? Not okay.
Make an agreement that during an argument, you and your partner will not hang up on each other, walk off or drive away. No walking out on each other. Everyone stays till the situation is resolved.
BTW, that ‘never go to bed angry’ thing? A good idea but it does have its exceptions. You can be too angry to come to resolution or too tired from a long, stressful day to be able to focus.
We once fell asleep while arguing. The next morning, we could not remember what the big issue was. Sounds ridiculous, right? To this day we have no clue what that argument was about. We were newlyweds when this happened, and we now suspect it was not an argument over anything important but was probably a matter of control. We each just wanted to ‘win’.
The ref wants to see a clean, fair fight.
Take turns talking with no interruptions. Set a timer if that’s what it takes. This is especially helpful if one or both of you are in the habit of interrupting, ( as I was). You get two minutes, then he gets two minutes. When you are not the one talking, that means you are the one listening. (No, it does not mean you are the one formulating ‘what I’m going to say next’.)
No eye rolling or exaggerated sighs. No sarcasm or disrespectful mocking. These ‘elementary-school bully’ tactics will destroy any chance for a healthy relationship.
If you do resort to low blows or say something awful, apologize immediately. Learn from the mistakes and follow your ground rules so that things get out of hand less and less frequently. Do I need to mention the rule of ‘no physical contact, except to hold hands’?
That ‘holding hands’ thing? Mark and I actually tried this a few times because he is a very tall guy with really long arms. And when he started waving his arms or throwing his hands up in frustration, it could be kinda scary. So we tried the hand-holding thing.
I assure you that it is tough to ‘ugly argue’ with someone when you’re facing them and gently holding their hands. All of your energy is focused on your thoughts, voice, and facial expressions. You may wind up actually smiling while watching each other.
Another thing you might want to try is standing side by side in front of a mirror, working things out while watching yourselves and each other. No turning toward your partner! Watch and listen to yourself as you talk to their image in the mirror. This one is a real ‘eye opener’.
Again, a bit of humor can be beneficial.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Everyone realizes that this old saying is a big, fat lie. So set a few ground rules accordingly. Keep in mind that it’s not always what you say but how you say it. In blunt terms, use a soft, sweet tone of voice or be quiet.
Avoid using absolutes like always, never and should. No name-calling. No yelling or harsh language. Never tell your partner to ‘shut up’.
Grow up and then act like a 3-year-old.
Pouting, mumbling, whining, and talking through gritted teeth are immature behaviors. Not an attractive or helpful quality in a partner. So, put your big-kid panties on and communicate in a mature, civil tone. Then ask lots of ‘how and why’ questions like a toddler. Really make an effort to understand how each of you feels and why you disagree.
Why are you so determined to do it this way?
How am I supposed to feel when …?
Why does it make you so angry when …?”
How did your parents handle it when…?”
How I feel when …?
How am I supposed to respond when…?
Why can’t we try…?
Help me understand what were you thinking when …?
Help me understand why …?
Ground worth dying on…
Could the current argument be negotiable? Ask yourselves and each other, what are the non-negotiables in our relationship? If you’re arguing on a regular basis about the same issue(s), ask yourselves if a compromise is possible. If not, why not?
There are only a few core issues that warrant being rigid and inflexible. Emotional and physical fidelity, emotional and physical abuse, gross misuse of money, addiction issues. These are big issues with little room for compromise.
If you’re arguing about these things, get the help of a trained professional. Your relationship depends on it. Challenges of this magnitude will not ‘go away on their own’.
More than likely, it’s the smaller issues that keep resurfacing. For example, I like to eat at the table. I enjoy being able to look at my family and talk about our day. I like having somewhere to put my plate and drink. I appreciate that the table is easy to wipe clean while the sofa and carpet are not. If I’ve worked especially hard to ‘craft’ a wonderful meal, I want to focus on the food, not the TV.
Mark, however, likes to eat in the living room, on the sofa in front of the TV. His work is rather demanding mentally, and he enjoys being able to ‘disengage’. He sits in an office chair for long hours each day and enjoys the comfort of our large sofa. His brain is tired and what better rest for the brain than watching TV? Neatness and crumbs do not concern him.
Two very different viewpoints on something so basic that it occurs on a daily basis. We did what most successful couples do, we compromised. On the mornings when we eat breakfast together, it is at the table. We both enjoy this immensely. Most evenings, we eat on the sofa in the living room, watch TV and just relax together.
Learn the art of compromise.
Fighting fair is a learned behavior, a skill that is developed over time with practice. Accept that there is no ‘win or lose’ in committed relationships. If both of you don’t ‘win’, then both of you ’lose’. If you’re not both satisfied with the solution, then it isn’t really a solution, right? Just go back and try again.
Things will improve.
Imagine the two of you, by following a few simple ground rules, arguing less and less frequently.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of calm and peace that follows. Picture a peaceful, restful sleep where those nagging fears, questions, and irritations become less and less frequent as well.
And when you wake, instead of avoiding eye contact, each of you smiles at the other.
Visualize a future with the two of you passing along these few simple ideas and helping others who may be experiencing the same problems.
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