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How to Fight Without Breaking Up

Communicating what you want is the only way to have a happy relationship.

Key points

  • 1. Examine your anger and gain control of your emotions.
  • 2. Discuss and define the problem from each person’s point of view.
  • 3. Brainstorm ideas and options for solving the problem, and discuss pros and cons of each potential solution.
Photo by Photosvit Big Stock Images
Source: Photo by Photosvit Big Stock Images

Communicating what you want and resolving conflicts is the only way to have a happy, healthy relationship that can support and enrich your life. You probably already know that, but perhaps for you, it’s easier said than done. Maybe you didn’t have a healthy conflict role modeled for you when you were growing up: Two people who loved each other and dealt with their emotions in a healthy way. Maybe you grew up in a house with lots of yelling or where tension always simmered under the surface. Your caregivers may have inadvertently taught you ineffective ways to deal with your feelings. But it’s never too late to learn a new way to be. If every fight sends your relationship into break-up territory, this post is for you.

How to Promote Compassionate Assertiveness
The key to fighting without the worry that it will lead to a break-up is two-fold: assertive communication and compassion. Let’s call this type of communication compassionate assertiveness. When you communicate assertively, you let the other person know that you believe your thoughts and needs are reasonable, and you are confident that your partner will want to hear what you have to say. Then you listen to your partner with empathy. Beyond their words, you hear the thoughts and needs they are trying to convey. You begin to experience the world from your partner’s viewpoint. It’s like saying to your partner, “I understand that your thoughts and needs are reasonable, and I respect and care about your well-being.” Remember, feelings are never invalid. You may disagree about what got you into the fight or who did what wrong, but how you feel, and your partner feels, isn’t up for debate.

It is challenging to concentrate on solving a problem when you are enraged or emotionally upset. You can’t focus on anything except the inflamed feeling in your body. The first thing to do when you’re upset is to cool off before you get into it with your partner. Then, follow these seven steps for conflict resolution:

  1. Examine your anger and gain control of your emotions. Don’t move on to Step 2 until you feel you can talk to your partner with a level head. Use mindfulness to check in with yourself. Does your body feel tense or hot? Is your heart racing? These are signs you’re not cooled down yet. If Step 1 takes a while, that’s fine. Give it time. When you’re ready, go to the next step.
  2. Discuss and define the problem from each person’s point of view. Here is where compassionate assertiveness comes into play. You want to assert your point of view while compassionately listening to your partner’s.
  3. Brainstorm together ideas and options that solve the problem. Forget about winning the fight. Fights within a loving relationship aren’t like the conflicts you may have in other areas of your life. If you feel like you won a fight with your partner and that your partner lost, that’s not a good sign.
  4. Discuss the pros and cons of the potential solutions. It’s time to talk it out. Don’t leave anything unsaid that could turn into another fight later. Yes, you’ll have more arguments in the future. That’s part of being in a relationship. But you don’t want to keep having the same one over and over again without any progress being made.
  5. Choose the solution that works best for both parties. The goal of healthy conflict resolution is for you both to feel like winners, or at least for neither of you to feel like you lost.
  6. Execute the solution. Put your plan into action.
  7. Evaluate the solution. Did it work? Meet later to talk about the results. What, if anything, might you do better next time?

This structure will help you deal with fights in a way that meets your needs and your partner’s needs while also enhancing the connection between you. Instead of conflict turning into a break-up, imagine a fight that ends with both of you feeling closer, happier, and more confident in the relationship? Even if you didn’t have the best conflict role models as a child, you could still be an adult who knows how to resolve a fight without breaking up.