One of the most rewarding parts of being in a committed relationship is that feeling of being seen, understood, and loved anyway. It’s a feeling we all ache for, and it is what leads us into arguments with others. Wanting to be understood is what fuels disconnection, whether in a relationship or in a country. The stronger we cling to the desire to be understood, the more we begin to believe that our side is the right side. This, in turn, fuels us to push understanding into the minds and hearts of others. Round and round we go, down a spiral of unhappiness.
I often say to my clients, “would you rather be right, or happy?” Being right means another is wrong, and in relationships you can’t have one person always be wrong. If one person is wrong, the relationship suffers. Often, in order to find happiness in our relationships, we have to have a willingness to be neither right nor wrong, but to find an answer somewhere in between.
Perhaps part of the issue is that we confuse love and attachment. Love says, “I want you to be happy.” Attachment says, “I need you to make me happy.” Similarly, in arguments Love says, “I want to understand you.” Attachment says, “I want you to understand me.”
What is this attachment? Attachment is wanting something we cannot have. When we feel attached to someone being a certain way or to winning an argument, we are wanting something inherently impossible. Nobody will stay just as they are, and no argument can be won without losing something. Attachment breeds suffering, whereas love ignites openness. When we’re open, we can experience happiness.
I know, easier said than done. In the heat of an argument we become angry and lose sight of the end goal. What is your end goal in a fight? Is it to win and be right? If you’re just dating, perhaps your end goal is to figure out if this is going to work. If you’re married, you’ll benefit if your end goal is, “how do I make this relationship stronger?”
In order to fight well, it’s important to keep the intention for understanding the other person and wishing happiness for them. Keep in mind, there is a difference between intention and action. The goal is to hold the intention, but not necessarily to do anything and everything to make them happy. Your job isn’t to make your partner happy, only they can do that. Your job is to wish happiness for them, so that you interact with them from a place of openness, understanding, kindness, and truth.
It can be scary to try to understand your partner in a fight. Sometimes we worry, “then who will be trying to understand me?” Relationships take faith, and if you are willing to model what you wish to receive, they’re more likely to reciprocate.
So how do you fight fair? Here are 5 ways to have healthier fights:
- Be honest. So often we skirt around the issue, do little jabs, use sarcasm, or just stew in our feelings. I see a lot of red cheeks in my office when I ask the question, “have you talked to them about how you feel?” An obvious solution, yet why don’t we use it more often? Being honest doesn’t mean you say what anger wants you to say. Being honest means saying what’s underneath the anger. Instead of “You never even ask how my day is anymore. All you care about is yourself.” try “I’m worried I don’t matter to you like I used to. I’m scared we’re losing what made us so great. I miss us.”
- Seek understanding instead of being understood. We so often think we’re listening, when really we’re planning our comeback, correcting mistakes in their stories, or wondering what we’ll eat for our next meal. When we listen to understand the experience of others, we use our critical mind to not only pay attention, but understand the emotional needs under what they’re saying. If you get distracted, pull yourself back to the conversation with a few deep breaths. It’s okay if you need to ask someone to repeat, so you can understand.
- Speak from love instead of attachment. You can learn to decipher between the two through somatic awareness. When we’re acting from love, we feel calm, warm, open. When we’re acting from attachment, we feel tense, closed, and anxious. If you’re getting stuck in attachment, imagine the other person as a small infant, and the warm, loving feelings that come with holding babies. Conversely, you can imagine the pain you would feel if you lost them (the pain comes from love). If this were the last conversation, how would you want it to go?
- Take accountability to resist defensiveness. It is incredibly tempting to shift blame away. Owning our mistakes leaves us feeling vulnerable, which we mistakenly believe equates to weakness. When you understand your impact on others and take accountability for how you affect them, you are standing squarely in strength. It doesn’t mean you lost the fight (remember, we’re not trying to win the fight!). Instead of, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” try this: “I realize when I said that, it hurt your feelings. That was unfair of me, and I’m sorry.”
- Keep your end goal in sight. If your only goal is to win this battle, you might just end up losing the war. Relationships can feel like war sometimes, when we’re stuck between struggling to feel understood and frightened at the idea of losing the other person. Take some deep breaths. Look at your partner with fresh eyes. Eyes that give them the benefit of the doubt. Remind yourself what you hope to come of this argument. A stronger relationship? Deeper connection? How do you ask for what you need? Using healthy argument rule #1, be honest and ask. Try, “it would mean a lot to me if we could take a few minutes each evening to see how one another’s day was. Could we try 10 minutes once we get home?”
Lean in to the beauty, the delicateness, and the strength of your relationships. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, vulnerable, or honest. That’s where the good stuff happens.
Good luck out there,