Even in the most ideal relationships, there will be times when stress, problems and, or differing moods or points of view will culminate in verbal fighting. While excessive verbal sparring is not a healthy behavior pattern, it is perfectly normal for those in relationships to experience occasional verbal conflict.
In fact, counselor and consultant John Bradshaw describes the capacity for healthy conflict as both a mark of intimacy and of a healthy marriage or family.
If you are involved in a healthy relationship, you do not become hopelessly mired in your conflict. You also do not reach solutions by always "agreeing not to disagree." Rather, you're committed to working out your differences. Sometimes, this search for honest communication and compromise means that you will argue. The secret to making this verbal disagreement a healthy interaction is to fight, but to fight fair and come away with a resolution that works for both of you. Demonstrating that each cares that their partner feels heard, understood, and that there is something in the resolution for both of you, can bring you closer together.
In his book "Bradshaw On the Family" he describes 10 basic Fair Fighting Rules. These are guidelines that allow for true communication even in the midst of serious arguments:
1) Be assertive, not aggressive. Don't use threats or intimidation. Be self-evaluating, rather than concentrating on "getting" the other person at any cost or "winning" the argument.
2) Stay in the here and now, and avoid score-keeping. Address the issue at hand, instead of dredging up a litany of mistakes from the past. (I'd really like you to be more conscientious about taking out the trash," rather than "A week ago I had to do it and two weeks ago I had to do it almost every day.") Better is "When I have to take out the trash when you don't do it, I feel taken advantage of and that you don't understand how overwhelmed I feel with other chores."
3) Avoid lecturing: "You'll never have a good job because you don't have the right education and you don't care." Instead, focus on concrete, specific behavior: "I think part of the problem is your degree. Maybe we could work something out so you could take a course or two, if you want."
4) Avoid judgment. Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. ("I wish we could eat dinner more on schedule," instead of "You don't care; you're always late for dinner.")
5) Be honest. Concentrate on accuracy and not on agreement or perfection. Instead of saying, "I always have to monitor the kids and their homework because you never worry about it," express your feelings realistically: "We agreed we'd both check on the homework situation. I just really wish you'd be more involved with it, so I could take a night off here and there."
6) Don't argue about extraneous details. ("You were 20 minutes late leaving for the party." "No, I was 18 minutes late.")
7) Don't assign blame.
8) Use active listening techniques. Listen. Repeat back what you hear the other person say. Get the other person's agreement about what you heard him or her say. Then give your own response and follow the same process.
9) Fight about one thing at a time. Don't argue about every single issue, whether minor or serious, that you may have on your mind.
10) Hang in there, unless you are being abused. Search for a solution instead of being "right" or running away. This is an important part of reaching real compromise and understanding through verbal fights.
Remember, "winning" or having to be "right" creates a situation where someone then has to "lose" or be "wrong." If one of the partners feels that way, it builds resentment and anger because nothing has really been solved and he or she feels emotionally dismissed and un-cared for. Solutions are about making the relationship work and grow to the benefit of each.
Based in Rockport, relationship coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., helps turn conflict into compassion for couples, families, friends and co-workers. You may address questions and comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org