By Nicki Ditch
Couples generally come to counseling hoping to “stop fighting” but couples need to address dissatisfaction in order to promote healthy relationships. Rather than working to eliminate fighting, give yourselves permission to have a healthy fight. You may be pleased to learn that healthy fighting actually helps the relationship, even when it feels uncomfortable.
1. No hitting below the belt.
Resist the urge to criticize your partner by making accusations of ill intent or degrading their character.
You always try to make me feel guilty!
You’re so lazy!
Instead, identify the behavior that you want to change, how you feel when your partner does that behavior, why you feel that way, and what you want your partner to do instead. Communicate that clearly and gently.
When you frequently point out what I do wrong, I feel unappreciated because I try to show my love for you. Please let me know what you appreciate about me and what you wish I did instead.
2. Resist the urge to hijack your partner’s grievances.
Rather than defending yourself or blaming your partner in response, allow your behaviors and their effect on your partner to remain the subjects of the discussion. Commit to a proper resolution. Your own grievances can be addressed later. Bringing them up now will only cause your partner to feel unheard by you and will not help in getting your own complaints resolved.
I hear what you’re saying. I think I would be frustrated about that too. Now that you mention it, I wish I handled that differently.
3. Control your brain to control your mind.
When emotions are intense, the limbic system in the brain is hogging much of the brain’s energy leaving little for the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thought. To encourage the limbic system to share energy with the prefrontal cortex, train yourself to become curious about the situation at hand. When you are curious about something, the prefrontal cortex will draw energy from the limbic system and decrease the intensity of the emotions. Let your goal to be to understand your partner rather than to win the fight.
Hmmm. You got angry so fast that time. What did it mean to you when I said _____?
4. Be intentionally self-aware.
Check in with yourself during discussions. Notice when you feel defensive and want to say something hurtful. Communicate your need to take a break from the conversation then use that time to identify what you are feeling and why.
I’m aware that I am feeling defensive and I don’t want to say something hurtful. I need a few moments to organize my thoughts. Let’s return to this in about 15 minutes.
Notice that none of these tips require you to give up your right to be treated well. They communicate your openness to identifying your contribution to the problem and your commitment to repairing the rupture in the relationship.
Nicki Ditch is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) who specializes in treating PTSD, anger management, grief recovery and borderline personality disorder. She also works with couples and families to facilitate healthier relationships and much of her work includes teaching clients how speak assertively. For more information, visit http://nickiditchlmhc.com or