Ar­gu­ments-out of con­trol, how do you fight fair?

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - char­maine roth

Ev­ery­one who is in a re­la­tion­ship ar­gues. Re­search shows that 69% of those ar­gu­ments are per­pet­ual. We have all had them - the fi­nances, the in-laws, too much time spent at work, too much time spent on sport, not enough help around the house, not enough sex, not enough at­ten­tion and the list goes on. So if con­flict is a healthy part of ev­ery re­la­tion­ship, why do so many peo­ple avoid it?

We each have our own ways to man­age con­flict. Some of us are com­pet­i­tive, need­ing to win at all costs, oth­ers ac­com­mo­date, putting the needs of other first so as to ‘keep the peace’ and some peo­ple avoid con­flict

all to­gether. It is how we be­have dur­ing an ar­gu­ment that the dam­age is done.

Mar­i­tal ex­pert John Gottman has iden­ti­fied four be­hav­iors that if re­peated con­stantly can be fa­tal to a re­la­tion­ship. These be­hav­iours are:

1. Crit­i­cism: ‘You al­ways…’, ‘you never’, ‘why do you…’ This be­hav­ior at­tacks your part­ner with the in­tent of mak­ing some­one right and some­one wrong.

2. Con­tempt: In­sults, name call­ing, eye­rolling, sar­casm, hos­tile hu­mour, mock­ery, sneer­ing. This be­hav­iour at­tacks your part­ner’s sense of self, with the in­tent to shut the other down.

3. De­fen­sive­ness: Ward­ing off a per­ceived at­tack by mak­ing ex­cuses, meet­ing a com­plaint with a cross com­plaint, ‘yes-butting…’, blam­ing, con­stant rep­e­ti­tion which be­comes whin­ing. This is done with the in­tent to shut the other down yet it in­vites con­tempt and crit­i­cisms well as stonewalling.

4. Stonewalling: With­draw­ing as a way to avoid con­flict - si­lence, mono­syl­labic con­ver­sa­tions, leav­ing the room with­out ex­pla­na­tion and chang­ing the sub­ject. Noth­ing ever gets re­solved.

If you can iden­tify your con­flict style and be­hav­iours, then you can be­gin to re­place them with be­hav­iors that en­cour­age ‘fair fight­ing’, there­fore en­hanc­ing the re­la­tion­ship rather than harm­ing it. You might not get the de­sired out­come yet you might un­der­stand your part­ner more and find col­lab­o­ra­tive ways to solve prob­lems.


1. Iden­tify the per­pet­ual con­flicts in your re­la­tion­ships, then you can look to ways of dis­cussing and brain­storm­ing so­lu­tions be­fore a fight erupts.

2. Iden­tify what your con­flict be­hav­iour is and see if you can slowly start to change the pat­terns - af­ter all if there is a change in you - your part­ner will change also.

3. If you have a com­plaint, keep it spe­cific. Un­der­stand how the be­hav­iour im­pacts on you - use ‘I’ state­ments and lis­ten to the re­ply - even if you don’t agree with it. Iden­tify what you need and state it.

4. Take some re­spon­si­bil­ity. Val­i­date your part­ner’s ar­gu­ment by demon­strat­ing you have lis­tened. Ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for a small part. This can be a learn­ing


ex­pe­ri­ence as once you can ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity you will not have to re­sort to de­fen­sive be­hav­iors.

5. If you feel over­whelmed, let your part­ner know, take a break and agree to re-visit the dis­cus­sion when you have calmed down. Don’t avoid the prob­lem - make a spe­cific time to dis­cuss the prob­lem.

6. If you find that none of these op­tions are work­ing for you, ther­apy can help you un­der­stand your trig­gers and what you are re­act­ing to.

7. Fi­nally try to re­spond and not re­act. Con­flict is part of ev­ery healthy re­la­tion­ship. It is what we do with our anger that can de­stroy our re­la­tion­ships. If you are con­stantly us­ing one of the four be­hav­iours iden­ti­fied by John Gottman, you are con­stantly harm­ing your re­la­tion­ship. You can still ar­gue, but re­place the harm­ful be­hav­iours with re­la­tion­ship en­hanc­ing ones.

Char­maine roth is an ex­pe­ri­enced Coun­sel­lor Psy­chother­a­pist prac­tic­ing in Syd­ney’s Eastern Sub­urbs. Through safe, skilled con­ver­sa­tion Char­maine works with in­di­vid­u­als, cou­ples and fam­i­lies to help them be­come more aware of be­hav­iours that are no longer work­ing and ex­plore new choices that will im­prove re­la­tion­ships. For more in­for­ma­tion, see her web­site.

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