Relationships are hard. Anyone who tells you they aren’t isn’t being honest with themselves. I am far from being an expert, but after almost ten years with my husband, I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot about fighting — fighting fair that is. It’s much easier to fight unfairly, using words like “always” and “never” that cut to the core. But I tell you using absolutes in a fight is never a good idea.
It takes a stronger person to walk away from a fight than it does to stay and rip each other apart with words you won’t ever be able to take back. Sticks and stones do break bones, but words hurt deeper than anything because the brain can put them on auto-playback until the end of time.
However, sometimes there are situations where you need to be heard. There are ways to do that — just choose your words carefully.
What Are Absolutes?
Have you ever said “You always do (whatever it is that really drives you crazy)!” or “You never (do that other thing that makes you crazy)!” Absolutes are those words that don’t cut any slack. They are also those words that aren’t ever completely true. When you stop being angry and really step back and look at the accusations you’ve said, you can see the untruth in them. But in that moment when you are most wanting to be heard or are on the defensive, you don’t always see the truth. You just see and feel your anger or frustration.
So What Is the Truth?
They say there are three sides to a story: your side, the other person’s side and the truth. While that makes it sound like truth is a subjective thing, it really is more a matter of perspective. Everything we say, hear or do is often based on our own personal experiences. For example, imagine a puppy that has grown up pretty much neglected by the people who own it. They feed it and give it water, but they really don’t pay attention to it except maybe occasionally to yell at it.
That puppy is going to grow up thinking that all people (another absolute) are mean and scary and that they yell *all* the time. One day, that adult dog’s people abandon him, and he wanders the streets, afraid of people, not trusting anyone because he’s never been able to trust the ones who had him originally. Eventually, he gets picked up or rescued, but it takes him a long time to really feel comfortable around people because he has to learn what trust is — and what love is.
Does that make the dog a bad dog because he reacts to people based on the only things he has ever known? No. It means it might take time for that dog to learn to trust love, to trust good intentions and to trust the hand that feeds him. You might say it takes the dog time to understand a new truth — the truth that not all people yell or neglect him.
How to Fight Fair
A similar concept can be applied to an argument. First realize that “always,” “never,” “all” and any other absolute words need to be stricken from your vocabulary. Using those words does three things in a fight:
- It demeans the person you are arguing with.
- It implies you are better than the other person.
- It puts the receiver on the defensive.
A good way to think of the impact of your words on your spouse, partner or significant other is to consider how you would feel if they were said to you. You’d feel pretty low if you had “always” and “never” negatively heading your way in a comment, right?
Instead, in addition to dropping those absolutes, make your comments about you. For instance, if you are talking about how you feel about something the other person does, say it that way: “I feel … unheard, unappreciated, misunderstood, etc., when (this) happens,” or “I am … hurt, offended, concerned, etc., when (this) happens.”
You are talking about how you feel, so don’t start with “You make me feel this,” or “You are that.” No one, and let me repeat that, no one can “make you” feel anything.
You allow your feelings to be hurt by what the other person said or did. If I wanted to be offended by someone saying “Good Morning” to me, it is because I allow it, not because they said it. So when you are in an argument with someone, you are talking about how you feel. Explain your feelings because the other person should know how you feel. However, don’t blame the other person. That way, they likely won’t feel attacked and compelled to go on the defensive — and it may also motivate them to adjust whatever it is that hurt you in the first place.
What Are You Fighting For?
Pick your battles wisely because one fight can destroy years of good memories. If what you want is something you believe in, then don’t turn it into an argument. Make it a discussion that both of you can talk calmly about. If you believe your relationship is worth fighting for, then fighting is probably not the way to keep it. Set ground rules for discussions and find a place where you might just have to agree to disagree. There doesn’t always have to be a winner or loser to every battle…and remember that forgiveness is an important step if either you or your partner cross the line. Sometimes, compromise is a win-win for both of you.