How To Stop Fighting With Your Mate

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Most couples enter the therapy office  angry and in pain over emotional wounds they’ve suffered while trying to communicate with one another. “He’s mean,” she insists.  “She’s cold,” he replies. Two people who used to feel close now feel a Grand Canyon divide between them. Comedian Lily Tomlin said, “We’re all in this alone,” and that’s just how we feel after a nasty argument. We complain:  “You never listen,” or  “you never talk to me.”  Couples consume countless hours bickering over who said what.

“You called me a moron!”

“No I didn’t, I said ‘don’t you know there’s a war on’.”

“No I clearly heard you call me a moron, and so did the whole neighborhood.”

“Who cares what the neighbors heard, I know what I said and I never said moron.”

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t!”

“Why can’t you just admit what you said and apologize?”

“I can’t apologize for something I didn’t do!”

couple crisis

And on and on it goes.  The original misunderstanding morphs and magnifies into a battle of wills. One person believes she has the correct record of what actually happened and there can be no resolution until he admits his sins and apologizes. He knows what he said. If she doesn’t accept his version of the facts, well then she must like fighting for no good reason.

Most people don’t enjoy fighting with the person they pledged to love, honor and cherish until death.  Yet fight we do. Sometimes we can’t even remember what started the fight. Only the cold chill of emotional distance and distrust remains. Relationships don’t come with a guarantee. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery, (as Erma Bombeck would say).  It takes many decades to get to know another person.  A good argument can bring us closer to understanding the needs and wants of our partner.

Humans have four basic needs, (after food and water):

  • Love:  We  need to feel cared about and treasured.
  • Significance:  We need to feel respected, and that our life has meaning.
  • Security:  We need to feel physically safe and stable.
  • Rest: We need down time to sleep, and replenish our energy.

Most arguments occur when one or more of these needs become threatened. Couples have their most brutal fights at night when the need for sleep fuels anger at the person keeping you awake. Thoughtless comments can threaten your need for love and significance. When your partner spends too much time with friends, wastes money, or flirts with your best friend, that threatens your need for security.

How To Stop a Fight

You can slash hours off of your arguing schedule by following these three simple rules.

  1. Agree:  At the first sign of disagreement, find something you can agree with in what your partner is saying. “You’re right I was yelling so loud that the neighbors likely heard it.”
  2. Care: Show caring for your partner’s feelings.  “It must have really hurt you to think that I could call you a moron.”
  3. Collaborate: Ask your partner for suggestions on how to resolve the conflict.  “What do you need from me right now to help you feel better?”

After your partner sees that you agree with something, you care, and you’re interested in solutions, she will likely soften up to hear your point of view. She might need an apology. At this time you can say something like, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt when you thought I called you a moron.  I was actually yelling at Fox News saying, ‘don’t you know there’s a war on?!'”

If you follow these three steps, most arguments will be resolved so fast you can argue, make-up and kiss in the time it takes Ryan Seacrest to say, “This is American Idol!” Now of course if you’re violent, alcoholic, chemically dependent or cheating on your spouse, you need a lot more help than this blog post can provide. For the rest of you lovers out there, let your soul crawl out of its hiding place, and show the love inside.  You’ll be glad you did.

Photo courtesy of alexey05.