“People think they are protecting the other person by not telling the truth about their feelings,” says Laurie Gerber, a president of Handel Group Life coaching. But fighting is like tearing those microscopic muscle fibers during a strength training workout, she says. “You have to break it down to build it back stronger.”
So with Gerber’s help, we’ve put together your fight-right cheat sheet. No screaming, no shying away, and no forgiving until the problem’s actually solved.
Set the Rules
Will you never storm out on a fight? Will you always let him finish talking before you start? If the past has taught you that some of your tendencies are far more hurtful than helpful, you should probably set some ground rules on fighting fair, says Gerber. It will help keep things productive and protect your relationship from, well, yourselves.
Write out the feelings that you’re afraid to say aloud, says Gerber. It’s important to take everything to the table. Already know what you are going to own up to—even if it’s failing to bring up your feelings sooner. Also think through a solution before presenting the problem. What do you hope to get out of the argument?
The worst way to start a serious talk is with a sneak attack, says Gerber. It immediately puts the other person on the defensive. Tell him, “I have something important to talk to you about. Do you have 15 minutes now or sometime today to talk?”
Tell him why you want to have the conversation. “I love you and want to be honest with you” is a good one. If your reason isn’t friendly, you aren’t ready for the conversation and should spend some more time cooling off, she advises.
Get the Facts Straight
“We are really (not good) at listening,” says Gerber, who says it took her 10 years to realize her faulty listening skills in her own marriage. “During arguments and discussions, we are very busy thinking about our own thoughts and what we think [the other person] will say.” The result could be misinterpreting what’s actually said, so take notes and repeat back—without interrupting—what you believe you are hearing. Likewise, make it clear that what you say/accuse each other of is your perception, not necessarily the truth, and you both want to hear the other’s side of things.