The Good Fight
Today, parent educator Hetti Wohlgemuth shares advice on fighting well:
“Bob and I fought last week. Not a big one, but one that prevented us from playing our nightly gin game and one that led me to go to bed mad, something the experts and my parents (their only bit of marital advice) advise against. Fights are not something to avoid at all costs and the experts actually say that a noisy marriage might be better than a quiet one: at least you're talking to one another. Fights happen, yes, but how does it impact our kids? What is a good fight and how can we pull it off?
Know when to let an argument go. Sometimes when we're stressed in other parts of our lives - jobs, extended family, friends, finances, etc. - it's handy and safe to release our fury toward our partner. Whether this is the case or your partner is the cause of the anger, there’s merit to letting the argument go or redirecting the anger toward the actual guilty source. After my spat with Bob, he offered the olive branch the next morning and though I still felt grumpy, I knew I needed to let our little spat go. I did and I'm glad. Fights would not be so much of an issue for kids if they knew that they were only blips on the screen and would disappear with a kiss, a hug, a kind word, and a real desire not to stay mired in unpleasantness.
Vive la difference! Men and women actually are different, so are two women within a couple or two men. We partnered up with our significant other because of our similarities and our differences. Bob is very good at listening to me go on and on about my grievances. But occasionally he rushes in with advice, solutions, and causes – a desire to fix thing when I just want him to listen. Bottom line is he's trying to help in the way he knows how; accept different well intentioned approaches.
Pick your battles. We advise this when dealing with children and we need to abide by this within relationships too. It's not good for you, your partner, or your kids to fight about every teeny tiny resentment. Sometimes it's helpful to not see the unfolded shirts and sweaters or the catalogs piling up on the dining table. Deal with the big elephants and let the others go. As we know but often forget, it's more important to live in a happy home than a perfect and pristine one.
One person cannot meet all our needs. Entanglements ensue when we expect one person to be all and everything to us. We need friends (to give us the response we want or to hear us yet again), babysitting co-ops, babysitters, agreeable family members, and dishwashers (yes, dishwashers!) to fill in and support us when we and/or our partners are at our parenting wit's end. Learn to ask for and accept help.
Fight like an adult, not a three year old. Don't call each other names, blame each other endlessly, or throw sand in each other's hair. If you fight like a grownup, the match stands as a teaching tool. The "good fight" shows children we can get mad, express it in healthy ways, and then move on.
How to fight well. Use the all important, oft mentioned, ‘I statement’ such as, ‘I get mad (or any particular feeling) WHEN you give me causes and solutions (or any other activity) BECAUSE I feel I'm not being heard.’ (Coming up with the clause after 'because' is challenging because you need to take some responsibility for why you actually are mad, frustrated, sad, etc.) Also, don't have these conversations at midnight when the twins are screaming or at the dinner hour when the pot of water boils over and everyone's famished. If you do, everyone will end up (boiling) mad. The good fight may not feel natural at first, but it's worth it. Learning to fight well is an art!
Bottom line. It's not the actual fight that's the problem. It's the quantity (usually too often) and the quality. If you feel like you're fighting every day, then you need to sit down with your partner when you both have time and state where you're both at and what you both need. Listening can be as critical as talking. Occasional (in this case, more is better) expressions of kindness and appreciation are always welcome. Receiving them is just as important as giving them.”
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