When You and Your Partner Fight
It’s an inescapable truth that you and your partner will argue or fight. Often in therapy, I see that couples are unable to resolve a conflict, especially if it is regarding what renowned couples therapists Drs. John and Julie Gottman call “gridlock issues.”
When this happens, couples often argue, then one partner or both exhausts the argument until someone walks away from the fight. Other times, couples resolve the fight they are having, but not the underlying problem. This means the fight will happen again when one partner’s underlying problem resurfaces in a different argument.
For example, let’s say a wife feels that her husband doesn’t help out around the house enough. She also feels that he has underlying gender role expectations that bother her. They have an argument one night because the husband comes home and throws his clothes on the floor. If he agrees to be more aware of throwing his clothes into the hamper instead, it still does not resolve the underlying or “gridlock issue” the wife has about his gender role expectations. Eventually, another argument will ensue when the wife feels another gender role expectation is thrown at her.
There are various interventions and ways of communicating with your partner that help a couple fight fairly. But what about if a fight has already occurred? What can you do after a fight to reconnect with your partner? The Gottmans’ method has five steps for communicating in an understanding and calm manner after a fight or argument. It is important that both partners are calm.
Here are the steps the Gottmans suggest:
- Share your feelings during the fight. Focus on using “I” statements rather than pointing fingers. Each person should do this without the other partner commenting on the other’s feelings.
- Take turns discussing and validating your partner’s reality. There is always some validity to your partner’s side of the fight. Find that validity and express it to them, whether it is something they said or even how they felt. This produces connection and understanding.
- Discuss the triggers that played a role in your part of the argument. What stories in your life have produced the same reaction or feelings from you? How did this play a role in how you responded in this fight? Here is another great place to validate your partner. Does a past experience that triggered them in this fight make sense to you? Validate that: “That makes sense how you would be so upset given that your past experience has been…”
- Take responsibility for your role in the fight. We all play a role, no matter how small.
- Talk about how you can make this situation better in the future.
Using these tools will be helpful in not only working through fights after they have happened, but also it will begin to help you during a fight. Once you practice these steps, you will be able to utilize them before an argument begins to escalate. You will be able to communicate more effectively with your partner and come to a resolution.
Werrbach, M. (2018). When You and Your Partner Fight. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-you-and-your-partner-fight/