Is Fighting Inevitable In Your Relationship?

Is Fighting Inevitable In Your Relationship? December 31, 2023

During their first counseling session, Rebecca, 37. and Kevin, 36, discuss how they tend to dig their heels in during arguments, and how bickering can quickly escalate into a dispute.

We’ve all been there: the day-to-day routine with our partner falls into a pattern of conflict, and fighting seems inevitable. When the central relationship in our lives feels fraught and a fight looms around every corner, our emotional health and our other, non-romantic relationships suffer.

In a recent article for his website, Kyle Benson draws on relationship experts and authors like Dr. John Gottman and Dan Wile, formulating a sensible approach to conflict resolution that’s both pragmatic and possible. Indeed, one of the most challenging aspects of the dynamic that exists between partners is the negative, cyclical patterns that reenforce themselves, creating a feeling that avoiding a fight is impossible.

Benson writes about Dr. Gottman’s observation that “nearly 1/3 of all conflicts can be resolved with the right approach,” unpacking the realities that many couples face in the process of improving their communication skills in the hopes of diffusing conflict. While many marriage therapists recommend that you “put yourself in your partner’s shoes,” Dr. Gottman has learned that it’s often difficult to tap into empathy during the escalation of a fight.

Instead, he counsels couples to “soften their start-up.” Or as Benson puts it, “how a conversation starts influences how it will end.” The takeaway here is that your approach to conflict at the outset can limit the magnitude of a fight and minimize its impact.

Being aware of your feelings and how anger or frustration is manifested in your word and tone of voice is crucial to nipping a big fight in the bud. According to Dr. John Gottman’s research reinforces the idea that 94% of the time, the conversation that starts harshly, ends harshly.

What does a “soften start up mean?” When Rebecca is upset with Kevin because he leaves his clothes all over their bedroom she might say the following to Kevin. “I feel frustrated because your clothes are often on our bed when I’m trying to relax and get ready for bed. I would appreciate it if you could find another place to put them.”

Notice that this approach is not blaming Kevin or using a “You” statement such as “You’re such a slob, you never pick up your clothes.” With this approach, it’s likely that Kevin would become defensive and attach Rebecca back by saying something like, “You leave your coffee mug on the kitchen table all the time.” This negative pattern is coined “The attack-defense mode” by Dr. Daniel Wile and it can lead to many regrettable arguments.

Benson goes on to outline four additional strategies to help avoid fighting in your relationship. Each of the steps builds on the initial approach of “softening the start-up” and is aimed at de-escalating what often feels like the inevitable.

Dr. Gottman’s book The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work serves as a guide for Benson’s own advice, and he adds to helpful insight that Dr. Gottman’s strategies “may feel unnatural at first but provide you the vocabulary to naturally repair conflict before it harms your marriage.”

In the end, the goal is a healthy and harmonious relationship in which we can communication with openness and honesty. In the process, we can overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of conflict feeling inevitable, fostering compassion with a conscious approach to conflicts as they develop.

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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