You know how there are people who always end up in crappy relationships? Like they have a Pokemon Go-like app that points them towards the cheaters, lazy bums, drunks, mama’s boys and gold diggers. Gotta catch ‘em all! Five minutes into the relationship, they move in together. Great idea.
In reality, people want their relationships to work. So why is it so difficult? How can a couple go from happily ever after to their worst nightmare? Why do friendships get distant after a disagreement? How come there’s so much office drama?
Maybe folks just don’t know how to fight well.
Think of the most difficult relationship you have. The type of relationship where all you do is argue and it never feels like you solved anything. Is it family? A co-worker? Your partner?
Nobody likes to be in an argument. Especially if it’s a bad one. It’s exhausting, confusing and your body literally suffers for it. Bad fighting cripples relationships by cutting off communication and killing trust.
Arguing is normal and even healthy. What’s not normal —or healthy— is to fight all the time, and lose control of the volume and language of the fight.
Maybe you are in a relationship where you don’t fight well, and you think it will get better with time, but it won’t. Or you had a great relationship that didn’t work because you didn’t know how to fight. Learn how to argue well, and you’ll remove a major obstacle from having a healthy relationship. Relationships can’t fix themselves. You need to intervene.
Fixing the Relationship
Recognizing bad fighting is tricky. An argument may only seem resolved because you don’t talk about it anymore, according to a study 69% of marital conflict never gets resolved. Sixty. Nine. If that’s for married couples, how much is it for co-workers or family?
Maybe you’ve accepted bad fighting as the way things are. Let us urgently tell you it’s not. We’re not saying you should be friends with everyone. We’re saying everyone can settle their own issues in a healthy way.
That’s why we’ll talk about four attitudes that turn fights bad. We even drew pictures to illustrate. We think most bad fights have their root in one or more of these attitudes.
Disclaimer: No four year olds were asked to draw these images. We drew them all by ourselves. We are coaches, not artists.
What a Good Fight Looks Like
Let’s start with what a good fight looks like. To illustrate, here’s two people standing to face the other. The only way to resolve an argument is if both parts are on equal ground.
Things can be said upfront, there’s balance and space to be honest. Most importantly, when people are in a balanced fight, they’ll take their own share of fault in the problem. No one will let the other feel guilty or ashamed.
Good fighting creates the opportunities to grow closer. Bad fighting creates an opposition that divides.
What a Bad Fight Looks Like
A bad fight is imbalanced. Think of a bad fight you had. Who was in control? Who had the lower ground? Who was being judged for being at fault? How did it end? Bad fights may end in a truce, but never in peace.
The balance is difficult to recover because someone is not getting what they want and they’ll fight until they get it. When people don’t get what they want, their attitudes change. Here’s what that looks like:
Criticism says to the other person: you are the problem. A critical attitude has no space to ask or give forgiveness because the goal is to win the argument. Criticism is a silent killer because it creates broken but functional relationships. One person assumes the role of the judge (the critic) and the other lives to please the judge.
This is common at work, where bad bosses and co-workers throw blame around.
Dealing with Criticism: If you are at fault, admit it with no excuses. Criticism loses power when it’s not fed. Don’t try to justify yourself or blame others. Offer a solution to the problem and remember you are not defined by mistakes.
Defensiveness says: I’m afraid of this problem. A defensive attitude will respond by counterattacking or playing the victim. It’s difficult to solve a problem with a defensive person because there is no intention to communicate. Only to validate their fear.
A defensive person does not self-evaluate and will only be satisfied when they’ve established their role as the victim.
Dealing with Defensiveness: A defensive person will say anything to get out of the problem. Be prepared to hear excuses, whining, and even lies, but don’t take it personally. Instead, empower a defensive person by being honest, calling out the lies and, above all, remain calm.
Contempt says: I’m not the problem. This attitude is the most destructive (and common) of all. Contempt puts down the other person. This attitude creates a demeaning language in the relationship. Name calling becomes normal. Passive aggressive behavior and verbal and physical violence are symptoms of this attitude.
Dealing with Contempt: Patience and don’t fall into defensiveness. This one is the hardest to deal with because it gets so personal. The most important thing is never to allow anyone to disrespect you.
Denial says: This problem is not a problem. Easily confused with a quiet personality, denial is destructive because it lets unresolved problems pile up until they’re impossible to resolve. A lot of this attitude is fear of saying or hearing the wrong thing, and creating consequences.
Dealing with Denial: Show confidence and call the issue for what it is. For someone who avoids conflict, having an argument is evidence that something is wrong. Be reassuring that it’s not and work to resolve it. Be insistent, but don’t bully your way in.
Did you find yours?
We’re sure you’ve identified some of your attitudes from this list. As I write this, I see that I often fall into Criticism. I don’t mind accepting I’m at fault, but I’ll make sure the other thinks their fault is greater.
Isn’t that terrible? Why would we do that? If we learn to catch our bad attitudes and turn them into good communication, don’t you think our relationships would improve?
The Secret to a Good Fight
You can fight well if you learn how to control the volume and the language of a fight. Controlling the volume lets you understand each other. Controlling the language stops you from hurting each other.
Control the Volume
You raise your voice because you get stressed, and your body releases adrenaline. The adrenaline wants you to dominate the situation, so your volume gets louder. But you shouldn’t try to dominate the fight.
The problem with raising the volume of your voice is that there are only two possible results:
- You’ll shut down the other person
- You’ll compete for the loudest voice
Obviously, this isn’t productive. Catch yourself when you raise your voice and get used to apologizing for it. If the other person raises their voice, tell them you can’t have a conversation like that. This will be difficult, but you’ll find the way. Keep your voice down and create the environment to have real communication.
Control the Language
Use stress to focus. Fighting will stress you out. Left unchecked, you’ll say hurtful things. Instead, use stress to your advantage. The idea is to hear your thoughts before you speak them. Realize that not every thought you have is true. You’ll be amazed at how many crazy thoughts you’ll have when you are fighting. Filter them out and focus on getting a win for both.
Don’t worry about the reason why you are arguing. The goal of an argument is to put yourself in the other person’s position, not the winning position. The key to a great fight is that both of you can win. If someone loses the fight, you both lose.
Don’t use ‘absolute language’. That means you should never say stuff like ‘you never ____” or “you always ______.” Same goes for “I always ______” or “I never ________”.
The first is criticism, the second is defensiveness. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. This type of language sets an impossible standard if it’s true and it’s hurtful if it’s false.
Shut Down the Devil’s Advocate. Not everyone can articulate their thoughts well. Especially in a fight. Make sure you are not looking for ways to counter arguments. More than likely you’ll find cracks in the logic of what the other person is saying. Resist the temptation to land a punch there. Be patient and listen to what’s underneath the argument. If you are not sure, rephrase it before you respond to be sure.
Watch your body language. Most human communication is non-verbal. Controlling the language also means you watch your hand gestures and your facial expressions. Most people’s eyes get bigger and they frown when they argue. Again, be aware of yourself. You’ll get used to the sensation and you’ll know when you’re ready to punch someone’s nose.
What Makes a Great Relationship Great?
Learning how to handle arguments helps you in all areas of your life. What works in marriage works in the office. What works for friendship works for family. We are humans trying to connect.
Unless we allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable and take a stand to protect our relationships, we are only living half lives. Most people are great at relationships, no matter how many times they’ve been tempted to change their relationship status to “It’s Complicated” (who does that?). If you’re the kind of person that’s been loyal to a friend for years, or you’d wrestle a Grizzly bear to protect your family, you already show signs of being great at relationships.
Now go, have a great time fighting and have better relationships.
Take a First Step
At Tiggley we want to help people have better relationships. One of the ways we can help is by connecting you with a professional coach. Getting help to learn how to fight is crucial, and we would love to be a part of your growth. Contact us to find out what’s the best option for you.
Finally, watch this video to learn more about how happy relationships work.