With all the ups and downs in life, even the best relationships knock heads once in a while. Cyber talk is streaming a pop culture belief that long term relationships are just not viable. In this shifting climate, can we reliably build the skills to weather the natural storms of everyday life and still come out on top? With all the temptations, struggles and conflicts, can we maintain a loving relationship in the current environment? Let’s face it – most serious relationship problems occur because people just don’t know how to fight fair. They take the gloves off or walk away when the going gets tough.
Good fights require rules of engagement. So what might those be? Well, first off, it’s always a good idea to cool off first. Take a good 20 minutes and agree to come back to the table. John Gottman writes, in The Science of Trust, that when we are upset our blood pressure spikes and we stop thinking rationally. The best trick I know besides when to keep my mouth zipped is to acknowledge and validate first, before I make my point. What does that mean? It means taking a moment to let the other person know that they were heard and understood. This does not mean agreement but letting them know they got through. Then make a plan, find a solution, make it work then turn the conversation into something constructive. This may sound simple but it’s not. It takes time to make this stuff work, but it’s the bare bones of conflict resolution 101.
How about those rules?
1. No hitting below the belt. In the midst of an argument is not the time to bring out your list of injustices and misgivings about your relationship. “Well, maybe we should just end it right now” is not a good problem solving technique. Make a pact to not throw down the end of the relationship card during an argument. Also, those little secrets that were shared at tender moments, family, friends, old history are big no no’s during a skirmish. Saying things that are intended to hurt the other person is called hitting below the belt. Keep it simple. What works for me, what I want, what would work next time are the best ways to avoid defensive responses.
2. No yelling, screaming, name calling or swearing. We all know the right and wrong things to do; the trouble is remembering them when we’re angry. Victor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, said that “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The goal is to elongate that space by calming down first so we can think about what would be a good way to express what we are thinking and feeling. Usually, there is more than one reason why we are angry. How many of us have regretted what was said in anger? How many arguments are productive when we are upset? The answer is none.