How to Fight Better - Part 1
Number 1 reason people come for Couples Counselling - communication issues and conflict resolution. When people call for a consultation, I often hear: "We are tired of fighting", "It's the same fight over and over again". "We need better communication skills".
All couples fight.
Is it true? Absolutely.
Is it healthy? It depends.
Is there a better way to fight? No doubts about it.
Even couples who don't fight wonder if that's healthy. If the reason you don't fight is conflict avoidance, there are many unwanted consequences.
Today I want to talk about how we fight, and next post - what are the ways to help.
Three types of conflict. How couples fight:
attack - attack
attack - withdraw ( or demand - defend )
withdraw - withdraw
Attack - Attack couples.
I trigger you and you trigger me and no one is giving in, a perfect human storm.
Both partners' nervous systems respond to a threat by getting into a fight mode. We fight to win; No prisoners. It isn’t pretty.
Maybe if I get louder, then you’ll hear me, and hear my pain. But in a fight like this, no one is getting heard.
Sometimes, for some people, what follows a fight like this is passionate make-up sex. Then people wonder, maybe it’s healthy to fight like this.
There is so much energy and tension in the fight like this, it’s no wonder in the beginning of the relationship sex follows.
However, eventually it becomes pretty exhausting. Too much damage is being done. Words are being said that are hard to recover from.
More often than not, a couple like this doesn't know how to repair properly, so after a period of calm they find themselves in the same fight over and over again.
Sue Johnson in her book “Hold me tight” calls this pattern “Find the bad guy” or “It’s not me , it’s you”
Attack - Withdraw couple
One person goes into a fight mode, the other into a flight.
One person believes - let’s just get it all out, here and now. The other needs time and space alone to process.
One person is loud and expressive and has a high tolerance for that type of energy. The other often looks calm on the outside and is completely overwhelmed or raging inside.
Whether fight or flight, some of it depends on your family of origin.
Did you grow up in a family where your parents believe that raising your voice is rude, or that leaving the room during a fight is unacceptable.
Was it a family that fought loudly and made up ever louder or was it a family that swept things under the carpet and never brought it up again.
The withdrawing partner often feels like “I can’t do anything right”, so they give up, or feel numb or freeze or shut down.
Pursuing partner is desperately trying to connect, and feels like there’s a wall between the two. Trying to get their partner’s attention and care, they unintentionally push them even further away by how they attempt that connection.
Both people usually don’t know how to interrupt this cycle.
Withdraw - Withdraw couples.
What might look like peace really isn’t. Sometimes, it appears that neither partner is invested in the relationship; they have both given up hope.
Maybe they never fought, being scared of confrontation, or rocking the boat, maybe they fought and fought and now they are both exhausted and quit trying.
Nothing is ever resolved. Nothing changes. They are both tired. They try to keep the status quo. It doesn’t feel good.
Sometimes withdraw - withdraw couples look like a couple everyone thinks is doing great, until they get a divorce, and no one understands why; “But you never fought”, their friends say, “what could be wrong?”.
The question is, did they stop caring, or just don’t know how to restore the intimacy and connection.
Here are some questions to ponder:
What is your fighting style?
Did it change throughout your relationship?
What was your parents fighting style? How did it affect you?
And more importantly, once we identify it, what do we do next?
And this is what we are going to explore in one of our next blog posts. Coming soon.