The Secrets To Reducing Repetitive Fighting
In my last post I talked about the futility of repetitive fighting, and explained that repetitive fights often occur because we try to negotiate what cannot be negotiated: Feelings, attitudes and values—they cannot be negotiated.
Feelings, attitudes and values are at the core of many, although not necessarily all, conflicts. There is a specific way to approach values and feelings conflicts, the non-negotiable differences. This post will cover the secrets that increase the odds of eliminating those painfully repetitious fights.
The two most common mistakes couples make when approaching values, feelings and attitudes conflicts are:
One, they quickly jump from problem to solution, thereby skipping important steps between a problem and its solution.
Two, they avoid addressing the emotional aspect or data involved with the problem. They argue endlessly about the details—the content.
When the emotional data are ignored, the odds of the conflict escalating to a repetitious fight or argument increase significantly. The frustration each party experiences often compels one or both partners to blame the other. Once blame is part of the mix, helplessness is soon to follow. DO NOT GIVE IN TO BLAMING YOUR PARTNER!
Remember—feeling helpless is the offspring of blame. Blame is the refusal to take responsibility for your role in the conflict. (REMINDER: a conflict is not a fight—a fight is a mismanaged conflict).
If you believe and behave as if your partner is completely responsible for the problem and solution, you then have no control in creating a mutually satisfying outcome. You have rendered yourself helpless.
THE STEPS FROM PROBLEM TO SOLUTION
A very efficient way to think about the steps between problem and solution is in one word: EXPERIENCE. A negative or difficult experience is often at the heart of most conflicts.
In order to have your experience understood, you have to talk about it effectively. When you express yourself effectively, you reduce the odds of the conflict escalating to a fight.
How To Talk So You Will Be Understood
Step 1: Describe your experience to your partner.
Step 2: Expressing experience has three elements to it: What you think, feel and do. Or, your cognitions, your emotions, and your behavior. Or, THINKING, FEELING AND DOING.
Step 3: Talk only about yourself. (It’s impossible to be understood if you are talking about someone or something else). That does not mean you cannot use the word “you.” For example: “When you did/said “X” in situation “Y” I thought, felt and did or wanted to do…”
Step 4: No blaming, accusing or an calling. Probably a good idea to refrain from the old eye rolling thing, too.
Example of describing an experience: “When you were driving down the interstate at 95 mph, I thought to myself: ‘If we crash, that’s the end of this family!’ At first I felt scared, then the more I thought about it, I became terrified. When I asked you to slow down, and you said nothing, I was furious, and I began to withdraw, and I knew our romantic weekend away without the kids was in serious jeopardy.” Practice this, or a recent experience of your own, once or twice in your mind.
How To Listen So You Will Understand
1: Frequently tell the speaker what you are hearing—the gist—your interpretation. That’s because what is heard is not necessarily the message the speaker wanted or intended to send. Do not assume you got it right—check it out with the speaker. You might be surprised how often what was said was not what you heard.
2: Ask curiosity based questions—questions for clarification—do not provide opinions or editorial—
3: Offer a little empathy or compassion where it seems appropriate.
Example of the effective listener:
“Wow, I guess I really scared the hell outta you by driving that fast, and when I didn’t respond to you, you thought I was blowing you off, and that what you felt didn’t matter to me. And even though you were not yelling at me, you were mad as hell and really lost all your desire for what we both wanted in a romantic weekend. Did I miss anything?”
No, he didn’t.
Stay in your roles as speaker and listener until the speaker is satisfied that enough listening and understanding have occurred. At that point, and if the two of you have the energy, you can switch roles, but ONLY IF YOU BOTH AGREE. If one of you prefers not to switch roles, pick a time and place when you can.
This process is NOT EASY! It take practice—LOTS of it. Don’t be surprised when you and your partner make a mistake, because that will happen. When it happens be gentle instead of critical. Be watchful of yourself, not your partner. Support each other in your attempts at mastering this difficult process by pointing out what went right instead of what was wrong—unless it is your mistake you’re shining a light on.
When you can predictably repeat this process, you will reduce repetitious fights.
Remember, this process helps effectively manage values, attitudes and feelings differences—all of which are not negotiable.
In my next post I will address how to manage conflicts that are about behaviors, e.g., chores, inside/outside housework, etc.—differences that can be negotiated.
Let me know how it goes as you support each other in your learning process. If you have any questions or comments, please use the form below. Love to hear from you.
Wishing you a satisfying relationship,
Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT