Fighting is a big part of my daily life. In fact you might say that it’s one way I earn a living. Okay, you got me……….it’s not me fighting, it’s many of the clients I see in my counselling practice. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is “How do we stop fighting?” My answer is that you don’t have to. Fight for what’s important to you, stand up for your own feelings and rights………..just stop fighting as if the goal is to defeat the other person.
Let’s just say the other person starts it (isn’t that usually the case?). They say something outrageous or demand something. Perhaps the thing they want isn’t really unreasonable, but it’s the way they ask for it that raises your hackles. Maybe the “outrageous” thing they said isn’t actually all that bad, but you just know that it was said to get your goat. Hmmm………………. You could react a few different ways. The easiest way is to go on the offensive, keep them off balance, make sure they don’t get one up on you. So, in that scenario, you respond to the hackles and the goat. Another way, not too difficult, is to stonewall, refuse to respond, keep your own power, and in no way give them an advantage. A third way is maybe a little more difficult, and definitely requires that you leave yourself pretty open. That could feel like a problem if you think they actually are out to hurt you. There are probably many versions of these three options, but let’s keep it simple and take a look out how these could play out.
The hackles and the goat: the first is a pretty instantaneous reaction without too much thinking involved. Kind of like stepping on something sharp – before you know what it is, you feel startled and hurt. Your reaction is self-preservation. When your hackles get raised, you know without really thinking about it, that this is not a good thing, so you throw something back. And that knowledge that they are trying to get your goat doesn’t really require much examination, does it? If you go with that, you’ve already moved off the actual topic and right into your certainty that they don’t have your interests or sensibilities at heart. So the reaction is again to throw something back, probably something you have stored up for just this moment, something you know will get them off balance or strike a blow for the side of right. Most times, the next stage is just a reversal of roles, and you’re in a fight.
Scenario two: stonewalling, a good tactic if you don’t want to feel like the bad guy. See, in this instance, for a fight to happen, the other person has to keep raising the stakes until, well, you just have to respond, and then they’ve probably pushed your buttons enough, that you can make a case for yourself as the aggrieved party. Stonewalling is also good if you have no idea how to respond to whatever the other person is saying or asking. Just pretend you don’t hear them. The plan is generally to communicate that whatever they have to say is beneath you, unworthy of response. You might or might not get a fight out of this but you definitely will be striking a blow.
Scenario three: As I said above, this one could be tough. You check out what you think may be going on, and as you do this, hold back on your initial assumptions that the other person is trying to harm you. You might also need to set aside some verbal clumsiness, strident tones, poor timing, or unfair assumptions on the part of the other person. Are those things something to talk about or even fight about at some point? Maybe, but for now stick with the actual request, statement or complaint. Yikes, sounds like you’d actually have to cede that it’s possible that the other person might have a point. What if you’re sure they don’t? My guess is that this interaction feels pretty familiar and you may really believe that there’s nothing you don’t already know about the other person’s position. This is where you take a leap of faith.
The leap of faith could be trust in my experience with many fighting people, that there’s always more beneath the surface of even the most entrenched fight, and that the something often is more important than the familiar feints, lunges and blows. It could be trust that even though they seem to be acting like an a**, this is a person who matters to you, who you care about and who cares about you. It could simply be that any option besides having another fight that leaves both of you feeling hurt and alone, is a better choice.
So, my secret? Ask some questions. Look for even the tiniest bit of what the other person said that you could possibly agree with or be curious about and explore that. If you need to, ask for a little bit of time to consider what they’re saying, but if you do this, you do have to really consider it and come back ready to talk about it. Be aware that if you’ve successfully avoided having important conversations in the past, the other person may just be skeptical, so the two of you will have to practice this time out technique and work out the best way to do it. If you think this is something you might want to do, and you’re not in a fight right at this very moment, you could start a conversation about it, like: “When we have fights, I think I get defensive pretty quickly and don’t handle my feelings very well. Sometimes, I might be better to take some time to calm down so I can talk about it reasonably. If I want to try and do that and promise to come back to it, would you agree to give me that time?”
The main point of the third, and if I may be so bold, best, option is to start from the position that, even if you disagree, the other person has something to say that is important to them, something that you might not see immediately because of the way they communicate it. Believing that does not mean you need to agree with it, but if they are important to you it’s important that you give yourself an opportunity to hear it. I meant what I said earlier about fighting for what’s important to you, standing up for your own feelings, but this kind of fighting isn’t against an opponent, it’s against misunderstanding and for increased understanding. If something hurts, say it hurts. If you’re angry, say so. Help the other person understand more of your experience and point of view. The operative word is to help them hear you, which will most times require that you are willing also to hear them.
Are you skeptical? Fair enough. Human relationships are complicated and there’s probably an argument against most if not all of what I’m suggesting. I’m not going to be able to convince you that this will fix all of your relationship woes, but I truly believe that if the way you’re fighting against each other is hurting both of you, you have very little to lose by trying to change that.