Q. When my husband and I fight, we end up yelling pretty loudly at each other and even swearing sometimes. It would guess that this is bad for the relationship but we can’t seem to stop. Any words of advice?
A. Ah, my favorite couple’s topic: fair fighting! Conflict is inevitable in couples but it is important to fight fairly with each other. What is fair fighting? Very simply, it is focusing on the others’ behavior that you have an issue with and expressing the feelings that behavior has triggered in you, not assassinating each other’s characters. In other words, say “I felt disrespected when you didn’t call me to say you were going to be late”, NOT “You are always so inconsiderate and self-centered. You never do what you say you are going to do”. Of course, using words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ are in and of themselves inflammatory because they tend to be an exaggeration and put people on the defensive.
Fair fighting also entails knowing when to take space when one or both of you realize that the feelings in the room are getting too intense and out of control. It only takes one of you to take a relationship-preserving time- out: taking a shower, walking the dog, whatever. And the other needs to let that happen. With space comes all-important perspective and rationality. This is harder than it sounds but an indispensable tool a couple needs to learn to use and use regularly.
And here is the most interesting thing …. Even the most ugly conflicts will not harm a relationship if there is enough ’money’ or positivity in the emotional bank account. This is a point I will return to again in future columns. If generally the relationship has a lot of love, thoughtfulness and respect expressed within it (money in the bank), and there is a feeling of compatibility and liking each other (more money in the bank), then it can handily survive these conflicts, despite the unpleasantness at the time of conflict. If on the other hand, the bank account is low or in overdraft (lacking loving attention, frequent unresolved conflict, not spending time together), then fights can be very destructive.
Susan Costello, MA, LHMC, CPCC, is a licensed counselor and certified life coach working with individuals and adults in Sherborn. She has been in practice for thirty years and is a relationship expert. Helping people have healthy relationships – whether with a partner, friend or family member- is her mission. You can ask her questions for this column by submitting a contact form through her website: www.ExceptionalCoaching.com