Relationship Conflict Management
The Art of Fair Fighting Part Two
Written by Randi Fine
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
With healthy relationship conflict management, each party has the right to express his or her feelings in a constructive, respectful way and be heard in the same manner. That requires each person stay calm and maintain a fair level of control. The tension level of an argument can be kept at a minimum by speaking with calm voices.
If one person raises his voice in anger, the other party will automatically feel attacked. What is being said does not matter. Once one party takes a threatening tone, the other party is put on the defensive. Under these circumstances an argument cannot help but escalate.
Are you a passionate person who has a tendency to speak loudly when you are upset? If you are, make a conscious effort to tone your voice down. You may not think you are yelling but the interpretation of your tone is subjective. If your partner feels threatened, whether or not you believe you are yelling, then be respectful and lower it. If you cannot restrain yourself it is best to walk away and cool off until you can. Let your partner know why you feel the need to do that.
Arguing brings out emotion but emotion should never rule a fair-fought argument. Loss of control and over dramatization will not bring a means to the end. To avoid that, always go into an argument knowing exactly what is bothering you and what end goal you are trying to achieve. If you are not in touch with what you want, no solution will be acceptable.
Do not expect your partner to read your mind. Do not assume she knows why you are upset or what you are thinking. Avoid playing guessing games like, “if you loved me you would know what is wrong.” Do not give her the “silent treatment.” Be straight-forward and honest about what is bothering you. Then give the other person a chance to respond.
If you are the one being confronted, make sure you clearly understand what your partner is trying to express. After you listen to his concerns, restate what you heard by saying, “What I heard you say was…” This clarifies that you are listening, shows that you are clear on where your partner is coming from, and lets him know that you are validating his perspective. Understanding the opposing viewpoint, even if you do not agree with it, puts you both on the same page.
If an issue needs more clarification it is perfectly acceptable to research the answer. If it turns out you are right and your partner is wrong, do not gloat or be judgmental.
While trying to prove a point do not compare your issues to the issues of others, make stereotypical comments to validate your point, or mention other people who supposedly agree with you. When fair-fighting, the only opinions that matter are yours and your partner’s.
Healthy relationship conflict management dictates that only one person should speak at a time. The other person should listen to her partner’s feelings and concerns without reacting, interrupting, or judging. If you are the other person, fervently waiting to respond or voice your rebuttal, you cannot possibly hear what your partner is saying. Be patient, listen, and wait your turn.
While you listen, be aware of your body language. Much of the communication exchanged during arguments is nonverbal. We convey many of our feelings through facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture. Non-verbal reactions like eye-rolling, foot tapping, grinning, or yawning are reactionary and just as interruptive as talking over someone.
Sometimes arguments involve underlying issues or a conglomeration of issues that have yet to be dealt with. In that case, the issue at hand is only a symptom of a bigger problem. When bringing up a topic of contention, always be specific about your argument and remain focused on it. Stay in the present. Do not go off-topic or mix in non-relevant issues from the past. That is a revenge tactic that weakens your validity and causes your partner to lose trust in you.
To avoid the tendency to throw the “kitchen sink” at your partner when you are upset, air your feelings as they come up. Holding them inside only to dump a toxic load of issues on your partner at a later date is unfair. You may clearly remember what happened but your partner probably does not. Lack of clarity will cause you to argue minute details that you cannot possible agree on.
Remember that with healthy relationship conflict management, issues should only be resolved one at a time and in the present. Attacking someone with a smorgasbord of things he supposedly did in the past will only put him on guard. He cannot fight more than one battle at a time or backtrack to the past. As a result, his reaction may be one of anger and defensiveness or he may feel defeated and withdraw. Neither of these reactions is conducive to conflict-resolution.
Arguments seem fairer when each person takes responsibility for his or her feelings. This can be achieved through the use of “I” statements. For instance you may say, “When ___happens, I feel ___,” instead of, “When you ___, you make me ___.” The first statement represents how you are feeling, the second statement sounds accusatory and blaming.
To keep conflicts fair, do not exaggerate points by saying, “you always…” or “you never….” These statements automatically put the other person on the defensive and feeling the need to say, “I do not always…” or “How can you say I never…” When this happens both parties lose sight of the original argument and a blaming match ensues.
Assuming responsibility for your feelings and acknowledging the role you play in a situation means no blaming, no insults, no foul language, no sarcasm, no name calling, and no character assassinations. These “below the belt” tactics, usually used when one feels as if he is losing the battle, demonstrate childishness.
When you attack the person instead of the issue it is hurtful and disrespectful; it breaks down communication and destroys trust. These tactics escalate anger, derail the focus of the argument, and make mutual agreements impossible.
It is similarly destructive to use threats and demands or withhold affection to get one’s way. These are manipulative tactics used to back someone into a corner. They are hurtful and very unfair. Unless one is going to go through with it, threatening to leave a relationship or get a divorce when she does not get her way is low-down and dirty. Once threats and demands are thrown in the mix, a simple problem becomes a monumental issue that the entire relationship seems to hinge upon.
It should go without saying that in healthy relationship conflict management, the use or threat of physical force on someone such as pushing, restraining, or hitting, is never acceptable. Breaking things, punching walls, and hurling objects are equally as threatening and violent. If the arguments in your relationship ever escalate to this dangerous level, whether perpetrator or victim, you must understand the seriousness and seek professional help.
Ending an argument in a positive way is vital to the continuation of a healthy relationship. It is neither positive nor healthy to apologize for something you did not do, just for the sake of ending an argument. But if either partner changes his or her mind or decides to surrender at any time during the fair-fighting process, the person should be allowed to retreat with dignity.
Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.
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