Do you and your partner find yourselves fighting?
Do these fights feel like they are always the same?
Does it feel like you never get anything accomplished or can’t even communicate about the simplest of things?
Even if this all feels like it is true for your relationship there is hope. You and your partner just have to learn how to fight fair! Even the healthiest of relationships will see the occasional disagreement or fight. What sets these relationships apart is not that they fight but HOW they fight. This series of blog posts will break down the skills couples need for healthy fighting. These strategies can help turn your blow out fights into meaningful communication.
The first technique is simple (but remember, simple does not necessarily equal easy).
When you fight with your partner you should start as many statements as you can with the word “I.” Often times when we fight with those we love we can become accusatory because we are hurting. “You said”,” You did”, “you promised”, etc. are often the first words that trigger a big blow out fight. Changing these statements to “I feel”, “I think”, or “I need” can have a drastic impact on how your partner responds to you.
For example, “You never call me when you are going to be late.” Versus “I feel so scared that something has happened when I don’t know where you are.” Both of these statements convey the need to have your partner let you know when they are going to be late. To your partner, the “you” statement often feels like an attack. When we feel attacked, we fight back or withdrawal. Neither of these responses is conducive for communication and understanding.
Using “I” statements improves communication for a couple of reasons. First, in order to say “I feel. . .” or “I need” the partner who is upset has to slow down and figure out what they are feeling . Once you know what you are feeling, then you have figure out why you are feeling that way. Then you can have some clarity about what you need from your partner. This means that there is greater clarity and self-awareness on part of the upset partner.
Second, when you own your feelings and communicate them in a non-accusatory way your partner is more open to hearing you.
When your partner isn’t on the defensive, they are more likely to hear what you are trying to communicate. This means that there is an opening to dialogue versus the old pattern of getting angry and trying to “win” the fight.
While the concept of using “I” statements may seem simple, it can be quite challenging if it is not something you are used to doing. Practice this technique with smaller issues in your relationship. You may be amazed at what can happen when there is greater clarity about how you are feeling and you take responsibility for your emotions. Expressing your emotions using “I statements” can keep the lines of communication with your partner open.
If you would like some help in understanding more about “I” statements and fair fighting, Michele Grace, MFT Intern firstname.lastname@example.org and Claudine Miller, LPC at Chrysalis Counseling LLC are available to help.