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Info, Tips and Tricks from Dr. Bodden to Help You Live the Life You Want!

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Fair Fighting to Build Relationships

Relationships are funny things.  They are made up of two humans who choose to spend time together, over and over again.  Unfortunately, when two humans come together, anything can happen – fireworks or explosions – so arguments or differences of opinions are a natural occurrence in all relationships.  Although uncomfortable, which makes many of us dread them and avoid them at all costs, fights can actually be good for a relationship.  When there is a fight, it means that there is something that one of you is not happy about and so “fighting” can be a chance to learn more about yourself and your partner and to build the relationship – if done well.  Here are some ideas to help you make the most of the inevitable fights we must face.

  1. What’s really going on?!?! – Check in with yourself before approaching the other person.  Are you really angry that they forgot to take the trash out/bring home dinner etc? Or is it because your boss made you work late…. again.  Taking a minute to check in with yourself allows you to pick the best way to resolve the situation – whether addressing it with the other person or taking some time to calm down and address other concerns elsewhere.
  2. Have a plan – If after your check in, you have decided to take it up with them, then take a minute to outline the problem in your head, just the facts eg: “the garbage was left at the front door” vs. “you didn’t bother to take the trash out again.., you never do.”  Then, know what you want, eg: “the trash to be taken to the garbage bin,” and have an idea of how that can work.
  3. Own Your Stuff – Now that you have a plan, “I Statements” are a great way to express your feelings in an objective and assertive way.  Avoiding the “You’s” means avoiding blaming the other person which will lead to defensiveness (the blaming finger often comes out with these).  A simple framework for I Statements is: “I feel (emotion) when (objective description of situation) so I would like (request to address problem).” This allows you to describe the situation in a way that maintains your self-respect but also increases the likelihood of a helpful, productive response and conversation.
  4. The Art of Negotiation – Basic rules of engagement now come in to play.
    1. You have opened the conversation in a clear, direct yet respectful manner.  Now, it is the other person’s turn.  The conversation should involve taking turns expressing thoughts, feelings and propositions to address the situation.
    2. One situation will be addressed at a time.  If you started the conversation because of the trash, then tonight, the trash is the topic of the conversation.  Do not bring up old things or try to take on multiple concerns at a time – this is overwhelming for both persons and often not helpful in the long run.
    3. No yelling. No cursing. Escalating emotions is a sign that one or both of you is no longer able to work effectively so take a break and return once you are both in a place to have the discussion.  Respectful tone and language is the best way to have a helpful conversation.
    4. And no stonewalling. Breaks are helpful when used appropriately, but you must come back to address the situation in order to learn and grow from it.  We all know that when we bottle things up they have to comeout somehow so take this opportunity to get your needs met and learn about what makes your partner happy too.
  5. Practice Makes Better – Communication is something that many couples want to improve.  These are some basic guidelines that can assist in building your communication skills and strengthening your relationship overall.  Practice on small situations to build the skills, trust and confidence to be able to address larger concerns (should they arise).  You may even want to set a time to check in with eachother once in a while to discuss what changes could be made to make the relationship more satisfying for both of you.

Better Communication can mean a Stronger, Happier Relationship – Better for Both of You!

Ready. Set. Breathe.

-Dr. Bodden

PS: I also have a short video where I discuss Fair Fighting or for more information check out this helpful worksheet from Therapist Aid on Fair Fighting Rules. Good Luck! 🙂

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