Monday, February 22, 2010

Fight Fair!

I have fights with Solomon. I don't like having fights with Solomon, and we tend to call them "discussions" (I think it lets us pretend that it's not as big a deal that way), but fighting in marriage is a reality. It's not a bad thing either! How could two different people possibly never disagree! Of course we will argue, it's healthy to have different points of view on things, and that will inevitably lead to disagreements. As long as you can fight fair - as it were - then it's all part of a healthy marriage. But there are rules for these things:
No Name-calling! - it's not only unproductive, it's harmful. Don't do it.
Stay as calm as possible - after your heart rate rises and your adrenaline starts pumping, you can't communicate well. There are studies that show that you literally cannot hear anymore when you get to aggravated. It is not helpful for fight or flight to kick-in, so keep calm and discuss. If you can't stay calm, take a break, and calm down, come back to the issue when you are both distant enough from the huge feelings about it that you can stay rational.
Use I statements - You are not forced to feel anything by your spouse, you choose to feel how you feel in response to their actions. Those feelings might very well be completely reasonable, but it is all about how you choose to respond to their actions. Statements like "you make me crazy!" are not helpful, and can spark a much larger argument. Here is a handy format: When you did_______, I felt______. This makes it possible to have a discussion about what happened without throwing accusations around. For example: "When you spent the whole evening watching TV tonight, I felt unimportant and ignored." That is going to go over much better than: "You jerk! You're acting like I'm not even here!"

Let me illustrate with a real life example from Solomon and I. I'm not the worlds greatest driver, and I have a lead foot, Solomon on the other hand is very conscientious. This causes friction, or used to until we got a handle on it. but before we figure it out, our "discussions" went something like this:
Solomon: I really wish you would drive more carefully.
Tirah: We got here fine!
S: But we almost had an accident!
T: But we didn't in the end, and besides, you make me nervous when you're in the passenger seat! I'm a much better driver when you aren't there!
S: Well how would I know that! as far as I can tell you are always a dangerous driver!
T: You're always making comments and nervous noises! How can I concentrate when you do that! If you would just let me drive I would do much better!
Instead what we should have been saying could have been like this:
S: When you cut off the other car just now, I felt unsafe and in danger.
T: I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable, I was feeling flustered by having you in the passenger seat. You are a much better driver than I am, and I feel self conscious when you are with me.
S: I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable, is there something I'm doing to make you uncomfortable?
T: Well, you tend to make little noises, or just act tense, and when you do that I feel judged, and then I get tense and don't drive as well as I usually do.
S: I'm sorry I'm making you tense, I'll try to relax and trust you to drive.
T: Thank you, and I'll try to relax no matter what you do, and drive more carefully.

This might sound silly, but it is very close to our actual conversations, and that really is how we each felt. Through having several arguments about this several times, we gradually understood our dynamic when driving, and over time, we have become comfortable! Now, Solomon drives when we are not in a hurry, and if we are running late I drive! Either way, we are both happy and comfortable with the trip! We only got to that place by having calm discussions about what was going on for each of us emotionally during these driving episodes.

So by all means fight. It's unavoidable. But when you must fight, fight fair. You are supposed to be on a team after all....

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