How To Fight With The Person You Love


Let’s face it, if you expect a love relationship without conflict, think again. Two people means two different perspectives whether or not those perspectives are expressed and acknowledged.

Keeping your true feelings and thoughts to yourself is worse for your relationship, but that’s for another post. If you aren’t afraid of a little conflict in your love relationship, your next step is to know the ‘rules.’

You can’t have a ‘constructive fight’ without rules. Otherwise it’s a free for all and people get hurt (maybe beyond repair) far more than they should. In fact, a good lover’s quarrel has a purpose, and a pretty important one at that. Fighting with the person you love occurs to ‘resolve differences.’ And coming to terms with differences is necessary to have a healthy love relationship.

Of course this doesn’t necessary mean that those difference will go away once the fight is over. A fight between lovers is fundamentally an effort to determine whether or not one or the other viewpoint will prevail in the relationship. A constructive fight usually leads to a ‘compromise’ where both perspectives are preserved and a negotiated agreement is the outcome.

By the way, don’t kid yourself, a good (constructive) fight with the person you love can be a form of intimacy. I’m not talking about aggressiveness here, where the objective is to do damage to one’s opponent. In a love relationship, a fight involves making intimate contact with one’s opponent (or lover) with the objective of clarifying each other’s presence in the relationship. In a fight you and your lover are up close and personal. People usually don’t fight from a distance. Unfortunately, this usually starts off negative, becoming positive if agreements are reached.

The difference between this kind of intimacy and the usual experience we associate with the word intimacy (where two people are united) is, the fight is about something that divides the two of you. Ordinarily, people think about intimacy as an experience of closeness where two people feel similarly about something and are doing the opposite of fighting. The point is, anything that brings the two of you closer, whether or not it’s pleasant, can and will be intimate.

Rule #1:  Don’t fight standing up, sit down. The better alternative is to fight sitting down. Since sitting down is associated in most minds with ‘conversation,’ you should take advantage of this association. Reaching agreements will  be easier sitting down. It will also be just a little bit harder to act like a moving target. On our feet, it is usually easier to do battle. On our bums, there’s a better chance for the talking and listening required for agreements to take place.

Rule #2:  Don’t interrupt each other. You want to know what your partner is saying, right? Once you and the person you love have had a few of these constructive fights, mutually keeping to this rule will get easier. If you don’t rigidly keep to the ‘I talk, you talk, I talk, you talk rule,’ the whole think turns into molasses. Talking over each other, interrupting each other, talking at each other, and concurrent talking without listening are all examples of what can happen when this rule is not adhered to. Remember, fighting is best done as a back and forth action, with lots of listening and talking.

Rule #3  Words only, no actions. Constructive fighting is only about words. Language is the medium of constructive fighting. It is off limits to change the medium from words to actions of any kind (physical threats of any kind, using physical size to intimidate, pacing around to stay in control, etc.).

Rule #4  Keep the volume tolerable. We have to expect that a fight with your lover might get louder than usual. The question is how loud? Beyond a certain volume, loudness is being used to intimidate or bully your listener. Now you have changed from using words to express meaning to using words to push your partner around. Also, those of you with louder voices will have an unfair advantage in this regard. This is another one of those rules that a couple gets better at mutually enforcing the more constructive fighting they live through.

Rule #5  Keep the focus on your present relationship. In any constructive lover’s quarrel it is easy to veer off topic (bring up the past, talk about unrelated hurts) and focus on something else. Going off topic is usually a simple ‘pain killer’ to cut back on the hurt feelings that are being felt during a fight. Best for both of you to realize this kind of shift in focus is defensive and help each other stay on topic.

Rule #6  Avoid ‘blaming’ and ‘guilting’ at all costs. Blame and guilt are the two easiest ways to stop talking about yourself and defensively focus instead on your partner. The best and most constructive fights move in the direction of two people expressing their feelings about something to each other, tolerating the feelings this creates in themselves and their lovers, and then using the information that comes out of it to solve the relationship problems they are facing.

Remember the true purpose of a constructive fight with the person you love is to express your emotions and negotiate solutions to problems in the relationship. A constructive fight needs to address both of objectives.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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