In the process of writing my wedding vows this morning, I started reviewing the last five years of my relationship with my fiancé and how we’ve grown together. It occurs to me that one of the biggest catalysts for growth and positive relationship together has been the way we fight.
When we first got together, neither one of us had been in a relationship where our partners truly did conflict well. We had both been in unproductively explosive relationships, and in unproductively passive relationships. We had both been unconstructively explosive and unconstructively passive ourselves. We both had ideas about what a healthy conflict could look like, but we hadn’t had chances to truly test drive our convictions …Until we moved in together!
We had some pretty dramatic fights in those first two years. We scared the dog and the kids, and probably drove our neighbors to drink. There were a lot of stresses in both of our lives separate from the relationship, and blending our dramatically different home habits and our children’s needs was brutal at times. And, we learned each other.
We developed what I like to call our Conflict Code of Conduct. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always pretty, but I am convinced that working within this framework has helped is grow to a level of intimacy that was well worth the struggle. This is our aspiration:
- Re-center and re-calm ourselves over and over and over again in the middle of a fight so that we can think clearly
- Listen more than we speak
- Frequently repeat back what we have heard, so that we know we have understood the other person
- Don’t make decisions about the relationship in the middle of a fight
- Stay on topic
- Attack the problem, not the person
- Avoid “but you….” (Don’t sidetrack. This isn’t about who the “better person” is.)
- Pause if we must, but always return until we truly understand one another
In the heat of the moment, any or all of these aspirations can be challenging. There has to be grace to mess up, and then own up, when we diverge from the Code.
We get derailed when we feel that something important to us is threatened. It could be our perception of the other person’s opinion of us. It could be that person’s perception of our respective children. It could be the other person’s political view, spiritual impression, life direction or any number of things that could potentially threaten the dreams we hold for our lives. If the conflict devolves into being about “winning” we have both lost. We need to keep it centered on understanding the other, being understood by the other, and moving forward in a more positive way.
Someone outside of yourselves with the skill to help you be faithful to your own Code of Conduct, can be of inestimable help. A trained therapist, a skilled clergy member or trusted friend who can stay neutral might be just what you need to use your conflicts to grow forward, together.
I am happy to help as well. Click here to reach out to me. I’m happy to talk with you about ways I can help you improve your relationship. Remember: “Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant!” (Maya Angelou.)