Any healthy relationships involves two valid sets of opinions and feelings. Occasionally, these two perspectives are at odds with one another, resulting in a potentially uncomfortable, but ultimately productive conversation, if held appropriately. These conversations become unhealthy and even abusive when they occur frequently or establish an uneven balance of power, where one party uses verbal violence or insults to gain control. Any uncomfortable conversation that involves verbal violence, insults, and manipulation. Knowing how to navigate these conversations is the key to creating a strong relationship that evolves over time.
- Focus on your own feelings. Tense situations can make assigning blame and critiquing the actions of the opposite side come naturally. Focusing on your partner’s actions can stir defensiveness and resentment, resulting in a much more adversarial argument. Instead, use words that describe how you feel—every argument has two sides, and the only side you can understand fully and convey in this moment is your own. Recognize your emotions. This way, rather than act on those feelings, you can help your partner understand where you stand.Also, acknowledge when you are wrong. Because excuses can often accidentally belittle your partner’s truth, try being honest right off the bat, even if this means confessing a mistake or misdeed. This argument should not have a “winner” or “loser”—it should cause growth from the space between your dissenting opinions, ultimately making your relationship stronger.
- Listen to the other side. Listening to feelings and opinions that differ from yours is one part of working together against a common issue. Often, a fight escalates because one side feels unheard and frustrated. Help partners feel understood: repeat words back so that partners know they were heard. Even if what they say differs from how you feel, tell them that their thoughts and feelings are valid and important.Finally, consider the possibility that they are not the core issue behind this conversation. Sometimes, when we feel frustrated, hurt, or overworked by something outside of our relationships, we take out those emotions on those closest to us with the trust and knowledge that they can handle it.
- Maintain respect. In order to work together in this tense conversation, you must maintain the respect, care, and love that you feel towards this person when there is no conflict. If something a parter did or said hurt you, avoid the temptation to get revenge or belittle their feelings through sarcasm, name-calling, interrupting, yelling, threatening, or eye-rolling. These reactions will make your partner feel resentful or defensive and will only spur more negative feelings.
- Step back. Fights with partners can feel especially overwhelming because strong feelings of love deepen every emotion, including negative ones. Fear of what will happen compounds feelings of anger and hurt, and all these feelings work together, preventing you from thinking clearly. Step back and consider whether this argument is worth having. Did this person hurt you on purpose? Is the outcome of this fight worth the pain and frustration you are experiencing?In addition, judge whether you are in the right place to have this discussion. If you are in public, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, stressed or exhausted, hungry, or overwhelmed, your words and actions might be negatively influenced by these outside factors. It is okay to go to bed angry or step back for a moment!
Remember, however, that stepping back is different from walking away. Taking time to calm down always has the intention that you will revisit this important discussion later.
- Do your homework. Fighting with a partner feels intense, and many feelings, words, and actions can come up that alter the way you view each other. When you finish fighting and feel calm, think about what happened. Discuss with one another how you feel and how you will proceed.This will not be your only fight. Plan ahead and prepare for future fights by talking about what aspects of this argument truly hurt you. What is off limits next time? If there are issues in the future, how will you and your partner address them? Develop a plan so that with each argument, communication can be easier.
If you find yourself frequently fighting with your partner, consider seeking help from a professional. Therapy does not signal weakness; instead, it says that you and your partner are invested in developing healthy, effective behaviors for the future.
Life and love will always bring obstacles, intense emotions, and frustrating conversations. Approach these tough discussions with the proper emotional tools, and you and your partner will cruise right over these tough times. Fighting fairly and sharing opposite ideas effectively takes a lot of effort, but with each hard conversation, you and your relationship will grow.
If, at any point, you feel unsafe with a partner, or if partners fight by yelling at you, calling you names, or blaming you for their own bad behavior, the fighting could be crossing the line from healthy arguments to an abusive outburst. To help discern this blurred line, you can explore HAWC’s “Am I experiencing abuse?” page or speak with an advocate with HAWC’s 24-Hour Hotline.