Learn to Fight Fair and Bring New Levels of Connection and Intimacy to Your Relationship

It’s 10 am Saturday morning, errand day, and you and your person are set. It’s all the life stuff, mundane but necessary. Normally it would be a boring hassle but today is a ‘date-day’ in an effort to reconnect with each other.

The connection and intimacy have been drifting as between you have been a little tense for the last few weeks and you both agreed that some intentional quality time together was important. Last night you were both looking forward to today, thinking it would be fun and a bit of a reset opportunity.

You’re sitting at the island, scrolling your phone, waiting for them to come downstairs so you can head out… 10:00… 10:07… 10:18… You agreed to head out pretty close to 10, even though it’s a semi-casual day schedule-wise.

In the spirit of date-day and keeping things light, you send a text “Hey hon, you almost ready?”

Almost immediately you get back: “Yup, be down in a few”

You switch back to normal time-killing phone scrolling and wait a bit longer… 10:42. You’re annoyed. You don’t want to waste time or have this take longer than necessary. Plus, this is supposed to be some quality time together and it doesn’t feel like they’re putting you as a priority. 

Taking a deep breath, you go upstairs. Walking into your bedroom and there, on the bed, deeply engrossed in their phone, you see your partner. You’re pissed. You can see they’re mostly ready – except for their pants, which are on the bed beside them. Before you can stop yourself, out comes “Babe! What the f*ck?!?!” in a less than patient and polite tone.

And the fight is on…

Ground Rules are for More Than Just Playgrounds

At least once a week I speak with a client about how to have tough conversations. This includes things like:

  • Approaching a prickly topic
  • Drawing or holding a boundary
  • Telling someone they were a jerk or hurt your feelings
  • Asking for something you’re afraid they’ll be upset about

The thing these situations all have in common is they have the risk of causing a fight. Ugh, no one really likes to fight! It’s uncomfortable and most of us don’t know how to do it constructively. Lots of people have it that fights are a bad thing that negatively impacts the connection and intimacy in a relationship. 

For those reasons and others, lots of people avoid having some of these necessary conversations. Instead, they’ll try to make the best of the situation and ignore the resulting tension as best they can.

Ask Yourself…

  • What’s the impact when we do that over and over?
  • When we try to ignore the problem and pretend everything’s fine?

It’s pretty sh*tty that’s what!!

When you let things fester in your relationship, whether big issues or a bunch of little issues, it erodes the connection and intimacy.

It’s as if every time you avoid saying something or discussing what’s not working, you’re adding a brick to an invisible wall that you’re building between you.

Brick by brick, ignored or tolerated situation after situation, and the wall gets higher and higher and the connection and intimacy fades

Eventually, you can’t really see the other person at all… all you see are the bricks that represent what you’ve avoided and are upset about, rather than the love.

The Love Never Goes Anywhere; it’s Just Covered up With Other Stuff

Dealing with these situations is scary because most of us were never really taught how to do it effectively. I don’t know about you but I never got taught about how to have constructive conflict.

My role models taught me that silence, sarcasm, and passive-aggressiveness were the way to go – and that doesn’t work.

Beyond identifying what’s was really going on for yourself, clearly articulating it, speaking in a way that let’s the other person hear me, and also empowers both of us to work together for a solution, there’s more to having a constructive conversation about a contentious or conflict ridden topic. 

Until I went about consciously learning how to do things differently all I was actually doing was trying to protect myself and control the situation.

For Me That Looked Like:

  • Avoiding talking about things 
  • Passive-aggressively undermining the other person
  • Being overly angry, even explosive, trying to intimidate the other person into letting me have my way
  • Withdraw emotionally, and sometimes physically, in an effort to punish
  • Playing victim trying to make the other person feel guilty and give in
  • Threatening to end the relationship if I didn’t get my way

These are all very common ways of dealing with uncomfortable situations. They also don’t create connection and intimacy in your relationships.

In order to create connection and intimacy in your relationship:

  • You need to be honest about your feelings;
  • Talk about what you need;
  • What works;
  • And what doesn’t.

That means having these uncomfortable and vulnerable conversations, despite any awkwardness and tension you feel.

One of the ways you can improve the likelihood of success in your uncomfortable conversations is to set some basic ground-rules about how you interact with each other. These agreements, set ahead of time, ensure you’re both playing towards the same end.

Learning How to Set Effective Ground-Rules Makes the Difference For Having Constructive Conflict

I always suggest that you look at things you know make you uncomfortable in conversations you’ve had in the past.

For example if you’ve ever had someone storm out of a conversation and just leave you hanging, you know how awful that feels. 

Therefore looking at what to do instead of walking out would be a good place to start. Deciding to pause the conversation before things get heated would be a good idea.

Things to Consider Would Be:

  • Whoever needs to pause the conversation is responsible for reinitiating it
  • A pre-set amount of time for pausing (at least 30-minutes is recommended) is agreed to before you walk away 
  • If you’re not ready to come back and talk calmly within the agreed upon time, you are responsible for letting the other person know that respectfully
  • When you need more time, you are responsible for saying how much more time that is, and then reinitiating the conversation within that new time limit.
  • If you need more than the pre-set time, you are responsible for reinitiating the conversation.

These types of agreements set you up for success when you’re dealing with the physiology that automatically happens in your body during these situations. 

When your fight/ flight/ freeze mechanism kicks in, your ability to process information and be rational is compromised. Your brain naturally shifts its focus from it’s thinking centre to the emotional centre of the brain. When that happens (when your heart rate hits about 85 beats per minute) you can’t be effective in a tension-ridden conversation. Taking a break is a good plan. 

Some Other Ideas for Ground-Rules Include:

  • Stop the conversation and get clear on what you’re actually talking about. That means literally saying what the conflict is about before you go any further. Sometimes this act alone can solve the problem.
  • Set a time limit. More than an hour of conversation and you’re rehashing what’s already been discussed or not focused on a solution. If you hit the 60-minute time limit, you might both need to step away and come back at another specifically agreed upon time, preferably after a good night’s sleep.
  • The past is the past. Neither of you brings previous fights or disappointments into this new conversation.
  • No distractions. Put away phones, TV, computers, etc. for the duration of the conversation.
  • Listen! Get/understand what the other person is trying to tell you, even what they’re not saying out loud. This includes tone, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Make a date. Set a time that works for everyone to talk. Blind-siding someone with “we need to talk, now” can automatically create defensiveness. 
  • Agree on trigger-y language and phrases. Phrases like “we need to talk”, name-calling, cursing, that should be avoided ahead of time.

Learning How to Have Responsible Communication With People Takes Something

Bottom line? Remember that you’re on each other’s team – that is what’s most important.

When we’re reminded that we’re on the same team, facing the issue together, a faster and agreeable resolution is more likely while protecting the connection and intimacy at the same time.

You deserve to be happy and fulfilled in your relationships and the Relationship Rulebook series of articles can teach you how to do that.

Follow along as we continue to dig into the Relationship Rulebook and discover the foundational tools for building relationships that work. If you haven’t already…

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