The following rules were derived under the assumption that you are in a relationship that is worth nurturing. You should know what you want from your relationship: Are you committed to being with this person? Do you want the relationship to grow stronger and improve? Do you care when you hurt your partner’s feelings?
Making a relationship work takes A LOT of work, so the benefits you derive from it should definitely outweigh the time, effort, and heartache you must invest in order to make it last. When you have a good idea of what you want out of your relationship, you are better equipped to make decisions about what you are willing to compromise on.
Semantics Matter, Don’t Call it a Fight: Fight vs. Argue vs. Discuss
It might sound new age hippie or hokey, but my wife and I try not to “fight,” or “argue.” By branding the communication a fight or argument, you automatically create a mental situation where there has to a winner and a loser. This can lead to saying things just to “win” the fight, rather than focusing on how to address the issue at hand. When you discuss an issue or situation with your partner, you are both working towards a common goal—making your relationship better.
Have a Purpose or a Goal before Engaging in a “Fight”
When you write an essay, you always include a thesis statement before starting into the body. The purpose of a thesis statement is to give order to both the writer and the reader. It allows the writer to be focused on what he wants to say, and allows the reader to know what will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
The same principle applies to engaging in a discussion with your partner: you have clearly define what you want to talk about, so that you do not go off on tangents, and your partner will have a better understanding of the issue that is bothering you. Without a purpose, arguments can be aimless, and meander from one gripe to another, which can to feelings of pain and resentment from both partners. When you are clear about the purpose of a discussion, both partners know the issue in which they need to address, and can offer insight and feedback on how to make it better.
Don’t Bring Up Old Shit
A big reason for having a purpose before engaging your partner is to keep you focused on the issue at hand. You want to discuss a specific issue or incident in your relationship, and you plan to tell you partner why it is important to you.
Stick to just that particular purpose, and do not bring up past incidents or other issues. Bringing up past incidents is evidence that you are holding a grudge against your partner and have not been able to forgive them for it. Bringing up other issues will only confuse both you and your partner about what is currently bothering you.
During a discussion, it can feel like your partner is zoning out, and not listening to you. Or vice versa, where you really are listening to your partner, but she thinks you are tuning her out.
By summarizing what your partner says, you let them know that you heard what they said, and that you are able to identify their underlying emotions or concerns. If you can make your partner feel understood, they will be much more likely to listen to your suggestions on the matter.
Arguments can sometimes get heated. Both partners can get upset, and use incendiary language. Refrain from using blaming, angry, or adversarial words. For example, if you are concerned about your partner’s sister lying to her, you might say something like, “She is a lying bitch, and she’s been playing you for a sucker!!” Saying it like this would only make your partner instinctively come to her sister’s defense, and make the issue sound like a personal attack on your partner’s judgment.
You can neutralize your words, yet express the same concerns, by saying, “My biggest concern is that you are treated fairly and honestly.” This will allow her to see that you are not attacking her judgment, or her sister, but only that you care about how your partner is treated by her sister.