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Fair Fighting: How To Come Out Stronger From An Argument

Your partner is not a mind reader.

20/06/2016 1:49 PM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:54
Eric O'Connell
Not all disagreements need to lead to a fight.

You've heard the saying "never go to sleep angry", right?

Well, if you've been in a relationship long enough to see the other person hangry, wear trackpants or sneakily jump ahead of you on a Netflix series, you'd also know that this advice is nonsensical, if not a little stupid.

Sometimes you are just bitterly angry and want to get your eight hours in before an important meeting in the morning. And guess what? That doesn't make you a bad person.

According to Jacqui Manning, relationship psychologist and founder of The Friendly Psychologist, what's important is coming back to the argument, eventually, whether that be in two days' or two weeks' time.

"A fight doesn't mean a relationship is going bad or that you're likely to break up. How you handle conflict is the key and if you can handle it in the right way, then couples can actually get stronger for it," Manning told The Huffington Post Australia.

Rather than sweeping an argument under the carpet (because hey, you're happy now!) Manning recommends establishing an agreement whereby after each fight you come back together and address it.

Ignoring the fight only leads to a buildup of resentment, and it's more than likely the same fight will show itself in a different shape at another time.

"We all get emotional but it's about deciding, once the dust has settled, to come back to an argument and work through it so we can understand why the other person was upset, and also come up with ideas and solutions to help in future," Manning said.

The worst thing you can do? Pretend like it never happened.

"Ignoring the fight only leads to a buildup of resentment, and it's more than likely the same fight will show itself in a different shape at another time," Manning said.

Another thing Manning regularly reminds her clients of is that we're not born knowing the "right" and "wrong" way to fight. It's a learning curve.

"Disagreeing can be a good thing. It means you can learn things about the world, and more importantly your partner, that you might not have thought about before," Manning said.

Not everyone's going to think like you do and that's partly what draws people together.

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Be open and honest about your needs

"Men aren't mind readers, nor are women. You can't expect someone to know you are upset unless you tell them," Manning said.

While it might seem blindingly obvious to you, and as if they couldn't not know, the truth of the matter is people just aren't aware something is bothering you unless you tell them.

"I'll often tell people to start off by thinking about what triggers their upset. If you can't work that out yourself, then you will have little chance of communicating it to your partner," Manning said.

Once you know why something has upset you, then go and talk about it with your partner.

Begin with an "I" statement, rather than a "you" statement

Train yourself to start leading with the word "I" in mind, rather than the word "you."

"The reason you do this is not so much for your partner's benefit, but so that you have a better chance of being heard," Manning said.

Manning explains when people fight they often go into an accusatory tone which causes the other person to respond with the fight or flight response.

"When you're arguing with your partner, just the word 'you' alone can signify to the other person's fight-flight system that there is a threat."

"As a result, some people will exit the room while others will do the flight response in their head. They are there, appearing to listen, but they're not actually taking anything in, it's as if their ears become soundproof," Manning said.

Alternatively they simply fight back, and no one ends up getting their point of view heard.

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"People have different needs. It's about negotiating and finding a happy medium."

Name the behaviour, not the person

"Sometimes behaviours are unacceptable and you need to call them out and say, 'I don't want that in my relationship, and this is how I'd like to be treated,' explains Manning. But rather than name calling and attacking, describe the behaviour that is causing you to become upset.

"Instead of saying 'you're selfish and you never think about me,' try instead, 'when you go out at night without contacting me to let me know where you are or when you'll be home, it makes me feel uncomfortable because I like to know that you're safe,'" Manning said.

Of course, it comes down to people having different needs. But it's about negotiating together to find a happy medium.

By describing the effect the situation has on you, it leads to a greater understanding from the other person.

"Statements like 'I need more support' will not compute for most people. You need to be really specific and clear about what it is exactly that will help you feel supported.

"Whether that's help with the kids lunches in the morning, taking the rubbish out or cooking dinner a few nights a week," Manning said.

Circular arguments indicate something needs to change

Often couples will find themselves having the same fight, over and over again.

"If you're trying to communicate in the same way over and over again, and it's not working, then you need to try something different," Manning said.

Often when you are in an argument you get very fixated on what the other person is doing wrong. On top of that, you may also become fixated on hammering your point home and being right, so much so that you forget that you love this person.

This shows the message isn't getting through the first time. "Again, it's about coming up with new ideas and solutions together. Some might work, some might not. It's important to know everything takes practice and work," Manning said.

Is being right that important?

"Often when you are in an argument you get very fixated on what the other person is doing wrong. On top of that, you may also become fixated on hammering your point home and being right, so much so that you forget that you love this person," Manning said.

Manning recommends people ask themselves: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?

"Learn to choose your battles. If your fundamental emotional needs are being met and they are treating you with kindness and respect, then the odd disagreement is going to be fine. Sometimes you're going to have to let things go and agree to disagree," Manning said.

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