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#38 Having a good fight

HAVING A GOOD FIGHT – Fighting sucks. No one likes to fight with their spouse, partner, sibling, friend or co-worker. Fighting is hard because it leads to disconnection from the person we love, and that really hurts. When we care so much for someone, our heart becomes open and vulnerable to getting smashed into a thousand tiny, little pieces. So when a fight occurs, it hurts that much more. When you love someone, it also hurts to know that you’ve caused pain and suffering to him or her. Walls go up, leading to further disconnection.

However, when people fight in a healthy way, it becomes an opportunity to get closer to each other, rather than disconnect. Sounds weird right? I know. We learn our ‘fighting’ strategies from watching our parents, who learned from watching their parents, and so on and so forth. So if your parents didn’t observe a healthy way to fight, chances are, you’re not going to either. In my work with couples, I see two types of fighting strategies most often. Either they yell and scream, causing further pain and disconnection, or they avoid altogether, which sends a very strong message to the other person that he/she does not care. Neither of these strategies work to resolve the conflict and lead to disconnection.

Here’s a strategy for fighting that I’ve used myself and taught over the last fifteen years. First, if either of you are feeling emotion, do not start the conversation. You need to dispense that emotion because it will get in the way of working towards reconnection. Go for a walk or run, go to the gym, go play tennis, or meditate. Go do what you already know works for you to dispense that emotion and get you back to neutral; so you remember that you and your partner love each other and are coming together because you want to work it out.

Once you’re ready, be mindful of how much you love this person and how they love you, sit down beside them and hold one of their hands. Staying physically connected will remind you and your partner of how much you love each other, which acts a disarmer of the negative emotion that may come up in the conversation. Sometimes my husband and I are still mad but we force ourselves to hold hands because it triggers the serotonin (feel-good chemicals) levels to surge through our body which makes us feel happy. So even if you’re still upset with them, do it anyway.

Then follow this acronym: L.O.V.E

Listen – Your job here is to listen to what they are telling you, without interrupting, challenging, or offering your opinion. The goal here is to make them feel like you’re listening and understand them, which is interpreted as ‘you care.’ When they feel that, they will start to become disarmed and feel more connected to you. So, how do you actively listen? First, ask them what has happened for them in this situation? Then, as they’re talking, find the right spaces to insert the proper ‘ah, uh-huh, oh’. When it sounds like they’ve finished a thought, this is your time to paraphrase and throw it back at them, “So what I’m hearing you say is….. is that right?” or “What I’m getting is that….. is that right?” This will show them that you’re really working hard to understand what they are saying, that what they have to say is important, and finally, that they are important to you.” This is BIG. If you get ‘yes’ it means you’re on the right track. If you get a ‘no’, it will give him or her the opportunity to correct.

Open – Be open to what he/she is telling you. Even if you disagree, it is the other person’s experience, which is right for them. Everyone has a right to feel what they feel, and telling someone they shouldn’t feel that way will only invalidate his/her feelings, which will make them feel worse. The only possible outcome of this scenario is further disconnection from you. So zip it! There is a time to be able to disagree with your partner, but this is NOT the time.

Validate – You must make your partner feel like the emotions he or she is experiencing are valid. Eg. “If I didn’t get that promotion that I wanted for so long and worked so hard for, I would be really upset and frustrated too.” Again, even if you know there was a better candidate for the position, he is allowed to be disappointed and frustrated. Get in the hole with him. There is also something magical that happens when you validate someone’s feelings. Once they know that it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling, the emotions start to dissipate. Don’t believe me. Try it yourself.

Empathize – This is an important one. Remember we talked about ‘getting in the hole’ with someone? This is it. Empathy is about getting in the hole and feeling with someone rather than for someone. Empathy is about putting yourself in their shoes and really imagining what it would feel like to go through that experience. This is where you pull them in close, put your arms around them and hold on tight, or just sit beside them so they know you’re with them.

Put these pieces altogether, and you’ve got yourself a ‘Good Fight,’ which not only resolves the current issue but allows you to get closer once you’ve come through the other end. You’ve got an entirely new way to fight that leads to connection rather than disconnection. And that, CHANGES EVERYTHING!


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