Fighting Fair

Is There Such a Thing as Fighting Fair?

If you are like many people in a relationship you may find that there are areas in which you can improve. Here is a list of behaviors I invite you to screen to see
if you are reacting in any of these ways that may be counterproductive or even futile to the success of your relationship goals:

1. Apologizing prematurely without listening thoroughly to insure you have understood the message.  This is an art, not a science.  The art of apologizing includes not only thorough and attentive listening but demonstrating that you have understood what you heard by putting into your own words what you think you have heard and asking to see if you understood correctly and if you have, apologize for the resulting problem.  Even if you don’t agree, it can diffuse the problem.  However, it needs to be genuine.  If you honestly didn’t know you have caused a problem it will come through in your apology as you can also state that you will make an effort not to make that mistake again.  Or you can ask for kindly reminders to help you break the offending habit (knowing that habits take time and practice to change).  However, if you’re not sure you want to make the effort to change this particular offense (as viewed by your partner) it may be time to have a serious discussion of other possibilities about resolving your differences, “with all due respect.”

2. Refusing to take the fight seriously.  This can be very disrespectful and often hurtful.  Timing is also a key element here.  Ask if there is another time you two can discuss the problem when the timing is better for you.  Then you won’t be accused of refusing to take the fight seriously because you don’t have the ability to focus on the issue right then.  Diminishing your partner’s point of view is normally the primary reason you might be accused of not taking the fight seriously.  Respecting your partner is critical to keeping your relationship healthy and intact.  Listening to their point of view and validating them is vital.  Refusing to take the fight seriously is a form of invalidation and over time can wear down your partner’s interest in sharing with you, perhaps even being interested in your thoughts or point of view on a matter.  And let’s be honest, not all issues need to become a fight.  Perhaps it just warrants a discussion to prevent a fight, and this is also an art.

3. Withdrawing, evading “toe-to-toe confrontation”; walking out; falling asleep; applying the “silent treatment”.  It’s emotional evacuation, possibly for fear it will lead to a painful result.  If this is a common problem for you two then it’s time for Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFcT).  Call me to discuss if this may be right for you and your partner.

4. Using intimate knowledge of your partner to hit “below the belt”, which can be humiliating if done in front of others, and prickly to back out of either way.  You can never take back what you’ve risked, therefore this is a very risky choice that compromises the health, vitality, and success of your relationship.

5. Throwing in the kitchen sink meaning bringing in unrelated issues to stack the deck against your partner, or your stacking may include evidence from months or years gone by that you’ve never brought up.  This is a poorly constructed argument that leads to a fight on a grander scale and doesn’t accomplish what you’re seeking to achieve.  If you can’t discuss it appropriately it’s better not to add this behavior.  It may be due to your sense of powerlessness on the topic but your partner will not see it that way.  Your partner will feel you are attacking them instead of trying to resolve the issue.  And when your partner feels attacked they will either withdraw or find evidence against you in return.  Either way you lose.  Best offense is to bring up your feelings in a tactful way, when the timing is right, and you’ve asked to have private time to discuss your issue.  Ask to be heard and then speak respectfully and with empathy for how your partner will hear you.  Then choose your words in a carefully chosen way so as not to offend, disrespect or inflame the feelings of your partner.  A good book to help you develop this skill is called “Non-Violent Communication, A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg.

6. Being a “pseudo-accommodator”pretending to go along with your partner’s point of view for momentary peace, but hoarding doubts, resentment, or reservations.  You may be keeping the peace for now, but eventually your truth will be told either through confrontation, or body language, or private choices that will eventually come back to haunt you and the relationship.  Being authentic in what you feel is not only holding a space for your truth, but shows your partner qualities of maturity and wisdom that will earn you respect, if not right away, eventually.

7. Attacking indirectly (against some person, idea, activity, value or object which your partner states that he/she loves or stands for).  Again, attacking is probably inappropriate in a mature relationship.  Having your own opinion is appropriate.  It’s time to learn the difference.  Couples counseling anyone?

8. Being a “double binder” – setting up expectations that make you seem agreeable on the outside but because you are making no attempt to fulfill your agreements it makes your partner feel unsafe, and you seem unreliable, and/or untruthful.  Again, look at ways to address your true feelings.  Picking your battles are understandable.  Couples counseling can be a very safe place if you feel you have too many battles and are afraid to address all of them.  I can help you prioritize and group them so that they are more easily identified and resolved.  And not all relationships can be “saved” through counseling but working with your therapist is a good, safe place to get that part figured out, too.

9. “Character analysis” – explaining what the other person’s feelings are, to them or for them to others especially when your partner is present to speak for themselves.  In other words, are you guilty of being a know it all?  Perhaps listening thoroughly not only will help you understand more clearly what your partners feelings or point of view has evolved to but it demonstrates relationship wisdom.  You’ll enjoy a higher position of respect from others through silence than you ever can through talking.  In individual therapy we learn and practice mindful awareness which can benefit you in developing your relationship wisdom.  Speaking for others is also considered a boundary violation.

10. Demanding more – “Gimme” – nothing is ever enough.  This may feel justified due to an impoverished spirit (depression might be considered here), connection to each other, or be due to a lack of material things.  Either way, learning that your relationship is enriched by quality time together and not by materialism can be one of the greatest successes you’ll ever achieve in your relationship.

11. Withholding – affection, approval, recognition, material things, privileges – anything which would give pleasure to, or make life easier for, your partner.  Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFcT) is the ideal solution to bringing your partner back into the relationship and bonding again the way you used to.  This type of therapy helps you to heal the frays and ruptures to your bond that is developed over time causing your partner or yourself to withdraw.

12. Undermining – deliberately arousing or intensifying emotional insecurities, anxiety, or depression; keeping partner on edge; threatening disaster.  Undermining can make your relationship highly unstable and make your partner feel unsafe.  This behavior is learned and can be unlearned.  Think of what your true intent is when you do this behavior.  Is it to get attention?  Is it to cause a fight?  Is it to push your partner away from you so you can have some space.  There are better, more effective ways to achieve your goals (once you’ve identified your true intentions).

13. Being a “Benedict Arnold”not only failing to defend your partner, but encouraging attacks from outsiders to your relationship.  Imagine how unsafe this must feel for your partner, and it makes you a traitor to them.  What is your underlying message when you betray your partner’s trust?  Can you bring it to the surface through discussion instead of this hurtful behavior?  Counseling can assist you in this goal if you feel unsafe in an unmonitored discussion.

14. Not “standing by” your partner when your partner’s plan, behavior, or ideas fail. Distancing yourself from your partner and your partner’s results so as to allow your partner to fail alone, and perhaps be shamed, and feeling without your support. This may be linked to another underlying behavior pattern such as indirect dominance, undermining, or being judgmental.  Ask yourself, again, what are your goals if you find that you are indeed failing to stand by your partner.  If you are failing in this area is it because you don’t genuinely have a desire to support the issue represented or is it personal about your partner.  Being authentic in your position is part of integrity.  Always try to practice a mindful awareness where you include seeking internal guidance.  If unsure that you can rely on your internal voice to give you appropriate direction on a matter then there are many books out there to help you develop this, or a shortcut can be through counseling, individual or couples, and I’m happy to help assist you as well.