Fighting Fairly, Part II

Respecting Our Partner While Working on the Issue

Respecting Our Partner While Working on the Issue
Our heads hurt just looking at this...

In our relationship with our life’s partner, conflicts are inevitable. Maintaining such a close bond with someone involves being able to compromise and find common ground to build the foundations of a happy, prosperous relationship. As life throws challenges our way, the goal is to find ways to overcome and move past them. And, as we get older, we gain experience that evolves us beyond what we were in the past; if our relationship is to continue, we must accept these changes in our partner and within ourselves.

In all of this, there are going to be moments and concerns where we don’t initially see eye to eye. In our previous post, we took a look at behaviors that couples sometimes use that not only fail to solve the issue between them but actively damage their relationship. The silent treatment, labeling our partner, vicious attacks and other actions we might be tempted to take can blow a minor disagreement up into a major destructive event.

Here are some better ways that my mentors and I have found that resolve the issue between our partners while respecting — and strengthening — our relationship.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

Stay and Solve — Storming away and unilaterally quitting the discussion is not going to solve the challenge or make our partner feel valued. Only by taking the time to work things out with them will we find a way through the issue. There may be times when the discussion gets heated and we need to take a time out, and that’s fine. It’s better to cool off than to say something that can’t be taken back. Taking a time out, however, is not quitting. We just have to communicate that we need some time — and accept it if it’s our partner who needs a break. It could be just five minutes to cool down or it could be a day or longer; it depends on the issue at hand, our emotions and our personalities. What’s important is that our partner knows that we’re still dedicated both to them and to finding a way through this challenge.

Ask Questions — When a conflict arises, it’s important to know exactly what the conflict is about. Sometimes there’s a miscommunication, and an argument can start from a simple misunderstanding. When we ask questions, not only are we getting a clearer view of the issue at hand, but our partner understands that we’re trying to see their side of it. Even if we still don’t agree after we’ve had the discussion, at least we’ll be working on the same problem. We should seek to understand so we can be better understood.

Also, when we get a clearer view of what they’re feeling, we might realize that they care far more about the issue than we do — if the issue at hand is a “10” in importance to them and just a “2” for us, it’s usually better to let them take the lead. If it’s a “2” for both of us, we can probably work out a solution quickly because neither of us cares that much. If the challenge is a “10” for both of us, however, we know that this is a topic that needs to be solved and needs to be handled with care and respect from both of us. We will only discover what we’re truly dealing with by asking the right questions. If we do, we get a clearer view of the entire situation, and that’s a crucial step into finding the solution.

Recognize that the World’s Not Black and White — There are times when we might have a completely different opinion than our partner about something, and sometimes this is just fine. We don’t have to agree in lockstep on every topic that comes our way. We can agree to disagree and come to the conclusion that we can both be right (or at least that neither of us is wrong). This can be a good thing, actually, because when we bring different ideas and viewpoints to the relationship, it can make it stronger. This only works, though, if we recognize that different viewpoints aren’t something to fight about; we shouldn’t have major arguments over minor issues. While we should be in agreement about life’s major choices (to have children or not, where we want to live, career paths, etc.), there are many other issues that, in the long view, just don’t matter. Choosing our battles wisely ensures our partner knows that we love them and that we always have their best interests at heart.

Focus on Specific Behaviors — When we hear phrases like “You always…,” or “You never…” come out of our mouth, we need to see the warning flags of our own behavior. When partners start to label each other, that’s a sign that communication is breaking down, and the initial disagreement is about to spiral into a much bigger argument — one that can’t be solved in this manner. When we focus on a certain action or behavior that hurt our feelings or in some other way is damaging to the relationship, that’s when we not only bring our partner’s attention to it, but also give them our viewpoint. “When you see the clothes hamper is full, it would mean a lot to me if you’d run a load of laundry,” is a much better line of communication than “You never clean up after yourself! Why are you always such a slob?” Making our partner defensive isn’t an effective way to solve a challenge.

Turn to a Trusted Mentor — In most cases, our friends will take our side, no matter if we’re in the wrong or not. They want us to feel better and if that means villainizing our partner, so be it. A mentor, however, will listen to the situation and give us their honest opinion. If they believe we’re in the right, they can tell us so, and give us some ideas from their own experience to solve the issue. If they believe we’re in the wrong, they’ll tell us that, as well, along with ways we can modify our own behavior and bring our best selves back to our relationship. Either way, they can guide us with organizing our thoughts, see ourselves in an impartial light and encourage us to do the right thing for ourselves and our partner.

Fight Fairly and with Respect — Conflicts will happen, no matter how much we love our partner. As unpleasant as those times are, they’re just a part of human nature. How we react to these moments, however, is completely within our control, and these are the moments that will define our relationship. If we have the kind of bond with our partner where we value them and their well-being — and they value ours — almost every point of conflict can be worked out and the relationship will only grow stronger. If we feel we must “win” every disagreement, however, our bond will start to erode until there’s nothing left. The victory will be hollow, to say the least. We can stand up for ourselves and our beliefs without tearing our partner down in the process.

By watching our words, attitudes and actions, we can let our partner know that we value them and their own opinions and viewpoints. We can both “win” when we keep the bigger picture — living our best lives together — in harmony.


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