Relationships – Fighting fair
Do you avoid arguments or are you a hot-head? Find out what type of a fighter you are.
When you’re in a relationship and arguments become a common occurrence, you may end up doubting your relationship. But conflict is no reason to panic, says psychologist Dr Max Blumberg. “Arguments are a natural and necessary part of any relationship. Partners have unavoidable different objectives at certain times. If there’s no conflict, you aren’t dealing with the issues that automatically arise from the fact that you’re two individuals.”
Blumberg says it’s not the fact that we argue, but the way we do so that matters. “Arguments follow patterns. For example, they may erupt from nowhere, or always build gradually. Most of us have developed a particular conflict style, usually learnt from watching our parents manage their differences. Understanding yours can help you find ways to resolve your differences more effectively.”
Read on to discover your mode of arguing – and how it could benefit your relationship.
You don’t enjoy arguing and when a row occurs, you see it as your responsibility to cool things off, even if it means backing down. For example, your partner comes home from work in a foul mood and complains that there’s no food in the house. You know he could easily have picked up something on his way home, but instead of pointing this out, you pacify his mood and head out to the shops.
Fix it: “Peacemakers don’t avoid conflict completely, but they tend to withdraw from it as quickly as possible,” says Blumberg. “Making peace is common in women with low self-esteem. Their behaviour isn’t as negative as avoidance since it isn’t based on fear but on the desire for a peaceful existence. But you may find resentment brews because you are continually comprising. Ensure that you don’t become a doormat. Start standing up for yourself. Change things gently. Stick to your guns, and he’ll soon get used to it. If your man is always the one keeping the peace, check that you aren’t taking advantage of his willingness to back down.”
You make your feelings known, but rather than air problems, you silently sit and wait for your partner to notice something ’s wrong. Your techniques include sulky silences, nagging and moaning. You often manage to resolve conflict, but it’s a slow and tiring process.
Fix it: “You expect your man to know what’s wrong, then get annoyed when he doesn’t read your mind,” explains Blumberg. “You make grievances known in what you think are ‘subtle’ ways, but which are, in fact, just sneaky. This is a destructive tactic as it prolongs the argument. Next time a row is brewing, ask yourself whether the intention is to hurt your man or fix the issue. And if he’s the one to favour this style, tell him you’d rather he just talks about problems.”
You’d rather stick your head in the sand than explain your point of view. Perhaps resentment is bubbling inside you, but you smile and don’t say a word. You’re afraid of confrontation; you’ll ignore issues rather than tackle them. But it’s only a matter of time before things blow up.
Fix it: “The psychological term for this style is ‘avoidance’,” says Blumberg. “If either, or both, of you is an ostrich, you may never argue because your fear of conflict is so great, you avoid confrontation. But while this appears to be a good thing, danger lurks beneath the surface. Differences are ignored, but this means resentments can build until one
person leaves. “If you’re the ostrich, look into your past to discover where your fear of conflict originates. Then talk to your partner about creating a safe space to share your feelings. Understand that being with an ostrich can be tough as your partner may feel unable to voice his opinions. If your man is the ostrich, coax him towards a more positive style of conflict by letting him know that although you may lose your temper every now and again, you always love him. And agree to take time out if things get heated.”
You love a good argument and see it as a way to let off emotional steam. You probably even look forward to it. After all, you can always apologise, and making up can be fun. You may thrive on the excitement your fights bring to a relationship. You tell yourself it keeps your partner on his toes.
Fix it: “Being a combustible type who gets off on regular bouts of falling out and making up is fine, as long as you’re with someone who enjoys the emotional roller-coaster ride as much as you do,” says Blumberg.
“Confrontation is a good way to clear the air as long as it resolves an issue, but beware of fighting for fighting’s sake. If this is your arguing style, ask yourself whether a row really will help to resolve things between you and your partner, or if you’re using it to de-stress, and if there isn’t a healthier way to do so.
“You’ll know early on in the relationship if your man is like this. If he is, and you don’t enjoy fighting, you’ll need to decide if you can cope with the intensity.”
You genuinely want to find a solution to problems without anyone getting hurt. You listen to your man’s viewpoint, and may have already developed strategies to ensure discussions don’t become heated. You want the best outcome for your relationship, and feel consideration and compromise are the right ways to achieve this.
Fix it: “This is probably the conflict style we all aspire to, but it isn’t always the most realistic,” says Blumberg. “We’re human, so while we’d like to think we can remain calm and mature during arguments, in reality we often struggle to contain our emotions. If you can use the style some of the time, you’re doing well, so go easy on yourself if you occasionally lose your temper. If your man is like this, you may need to improve your communication skills to survive, because long term, someone like this won’t be able to handle it if you cry, explode or fail to express yourself.”
Whenever you become aware that a disagreement is brewing, you try to prevent it with pre-emptive strikes. Your behaviour can include laying down the law by saying things like, ‘You aren’t allowed to talk to any woman while you’re out’ and issuing threats such as, ‘If you get in late, I’m leaving you.’ For you, attack is the best form of defence and you try to exert control over certain issues.
Fix it: “The idea that having an argument is about attack, is flawed. A mature argument is about airing and resolving disagreements. If you’re in a relationship where the only way to survive is by striking out, or if you’re with someone who behaves this way, it’s problematic as continual low-level conflict is more stressful than a oneoff row. Consider seeing a relationship counsellor,” advises Blumberg.
You never shy away from an argument, always giving as good as you get. But your hard exterior hides a fear of being hurt and although you’re not afraid to argue, you don’t enjoy it. You find disagreement painful and prefer to face problems head-on rather than compromise on what you believe in.
Fix it: “If this is your conflict style, address the reasons you feel the need to show a tough exterior, as your combative persona may escalate conflict,” says Blumberg. “Any argument that involves posturing is bad as it’s game playing. If this is how you resolve conflict, tell your man about your background and how arguing makes you feel.” If it doesn’t help, seek counselling. Is this is your man’s preferred arguing style? Encourage him to open up to you about why he fears being hurt.