Relationships can survive arguments, but not threats to the relationship!

Did you know that our brains are wired for ‘war’?

It is a primitive defensive mechanism that lays within all of us and when threatened, we engage our ‘war’ footing and go on the attack.

In general we can keep this mode under control, but when are we emotionally engaged, such as in the midst of an argument with our partner, our primitive brain can easily kick in, escalating the argument.

You will know when this happens to you, often you can find after having a major disagreement with your partner that as you calm it can be difficult at times to remember what you were actually arguing over.

What you are certain of is how hurt or angry you are feeling.

Obviously we would love to not have any arguments within our relationship and to live in a loving state of harmony with our partner. Able to discuss any issue in a supportive fashion and never escalating into conflict.

Whilst this a wonderful ideal, the reality is that in a relationship no matter how loving, arguments are inevitable and the question is not whether you have disagreements as a couple, but how adept you are in the art of ‘fighting’.

You see, it is not the fight or disagreement that necessarily is the problem, but how we fight that can cause a significant issue and place great strain our relationships.

Our discussion may have begun in regards to how we raise the kids, spend money, or the time one partner spends away from home which quickly escalates as the primitive brain takes over as we begin hurling personal insults.

Perhaps we use terms we know will hurt, like selfish or arrogant with our conversation descending into even more colourful terms.

As the argument escalates then the threats begin, with one shouting that they are going to end the relationship and it is now, in the midst of this argument that the real trouble begins.

The sort of trouble that can lead to a relationship ending well before it’s time.

So if you are angry or annoyed with your partner and want to resolve disagreements, without it potentially leading to the relationship becoming strained and potentially ending, you need to learn to ‘fight right’.

So how do you ‘fight right’?

The first step is to not enter into a disagreement with a view to ‘winning,’ as when an argument escalates there are no winners. If one of you need to “win” you both lose. 

If you need to discuss an issue that is a concern for you, then go into the discussion with a view to seek a compromise. To find a ‘win-win’ for the both of you.

Never dismiss what your partner raises in response, acknowledge that you have heard them and understand what they are saying.

Try as best you can to keep things friendly using a light touch, maintaining eye contact so you can see whether your partner is getting upset is critical, watch your tones and language, avoid personal attacks and be prepared to back off and revisit later when cooler heads can prevail.

Her are some ideas that will help you both raise and deal with issues in your relationship without things escalating into a relationship threatening argument.

Diffuse when you can

This does not mean avoiding conflict as this does not work, but there is nothing wrong with nipping the unnecessary arguments in the bud. The one’s where we are being needlessly prickly. Often the best way to avoid ‘war’ is to quickly wave the flag of friendliness, which can be done with a warm smile, well-placed touch or a reassuring voice.

Do not sweep things under the rug

Don’t shy away from discussing difficult topics. When a topic remains unaddressed they can become bigger issues than they would otherwise have been, had they been addressed in the first place. So do not be afraid to discuss issues that you need clarity on with your partner. Avoiding topics can feel threatening to our partner because they then don’t know what’s going on for you.

Try to not say things you will regret

When our emotions are getting the better of us, saying hurtful things is part of our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Yet this is where you need to get control back, by shutting yourself down. It is not easy to do in the heat of the moment, however if you love your partner and want the relationship to continue then you need to get back control by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m making this worse.” By pausing and stopping what you are saying, you are moving away from a potentially relationship ending mine field.

Always discuss difficult topics in person

It can very tempting when we are upset or annoyed about something to send a short sharp message via text. When we do that we are unable to read each other’s tone. Small issues can escalate so quickly when we are digital, so if you do have an issue to raise, do so ‘face to face,’ as nothing of concern to a relationship has ever been resolved via text.

If you are able to enter discussions with your partner with the aim of fighting right, who knows, that may even lead to you getting your way, or at least finding a compromise that you can both live with.

Should you find that no matter what you try that your arguments always seem to escalate, then seek out the support of a qualified counsellor, someone you are both comfortable with, who can then help you both find the way to ‘fight right.’

For more information on how to ‘fight right’ and to better understand your partner, I highly recommend you read Dr Stan Tatkin’s brilliant book ‘Wired for Love.’