Here’s a radical truth: Fighting is a choice.
It’s okay to feel resistance right now. Getting to a place in every relationship, especially in a life partnership, where you no longer fight is a challenge. But let’s overcome that resistance because this is a challenge worth conquering.
As a relationship coach, I am granted a backstage pass by many couples. It is an honor I experience with the utmost respect. It takes a lot of trust to let your guard down, to be vulnerable in the presence of an outsider. Yet sometimes it is only an outsider with a broader perspective that can point out that your “normal” isn’t healthy.
Fighting isn’t healthy.
Consider this: We live in a culture that regularly tells us that all couples fight. We see it on sitcoms. We hear it from friends. Maybe we watched our parents do it. It is all around us: All couples fight.
“We fight all the time. It is just constant. But that just means our relationship is passionate.”
“We hurt each other because we love each other.”
“He knows I love him even when I say those awful things. It’s just the emotion talking.”
Why would we question that supposed reality even if fighting feels hurtful? If we all think that is just the way things are, we tend to work within the status quo. It takes effort to create new habits and thinking outside the cultural construct to allow for another possibility.
But I’m here to tell you that possibility exists. The fightless relationship is optimally functional, healthy, and something everyone can learn.
Disagreeing Isn’t Fighting
Let’s start by making an important distinction. Disagreeing isn’t fighting. There will be differences of opinion in every relationship. The question is: How healthy is your process for negotiating a mutually beneficial compromise?
In a healthy relationship, each person feels honored and heard. Mutual respect is foundational and unwavering. There is room for disagreeing, hearing each other out, and finding the optimal solution.
Disagreements become fights when our ego is piqued and the mutual respect is lost. When you feel like you are taking things personally rather than focusing on a solution, disagreements turn into fights.
Fighting is not a negotiation. The goal of a fight is not to find a solution, but to gather power and win.
When couples are pitted against each other, it activates our fight/flight/freeze response. In a holistic way, we begin to experience our partner as an enemy, not an ally. Over time this power struggle and the damage caused by hurtful tactics erodes the foundation of mutual respect. No one enjoys being in relationship with an enemy.
Rejecting fighting as an option requires a fundamental shift in how you think about your relationship.
Competitive Versus Creative
The cultural messages about relationships paint them as competitive with language of winning, losing, and fairness.
“If she gets a night out, I get a night out.”
“It’s his turn to get up with the baby.”
“I have book club. She has yoga. Fair is fair.”
When we start thinking of our partner as our teammate rather than our opponent, we recognize that competition is counterproductive.
Competition puts you nose-to-nose, like boxers in a ring, and ensures that someone will walk away hurting. It is important to stand with your partner shoulder-to-shoulder so you can move forward together.
When you think of your relationship as a work of art the two of you create together, the shift becomes clear. Neither of you own it completely. It is yours together. Nor would it be the same if only one person contributed. Creative relationships foster synergy and bring fulfillment that competition cannot.
Making your relationship a masterpiece requires upholding respect for each other’s vision for the relationship. It requires listening to and hearing your partner through the lens of being their biggest fan. When you are creating together, energy flows into the vision of the relationship that best serves everyone. An attitude of abundance and trust allows for everyone’s needs to be met.
It takes cognitive and emotional work to shift from competitive to creative habit patterns. Each partner must commit to their own mindful examination of self and habit pattern change. This is turn shifts the function of the relationship.
Mindfulness of Simultaneous Emotion and Creativity
Any new habit pattern will feel uncomfortable and foreign at first. As I mentioned above, it is worth pushing through your resistance to create more functional, loving habits toward your partner.
When partners accept that emotion and disagreement can exist in simultaneity, they bypass the habit of taking things personally. For example, I can both feel angry finding a solution is hard and continue to negotiate a solution with you. This requires partners to be emotionally responsible for themselves while also not taking their partner’s emotion personally or projecting their emotion onto their partner.
This is usually where efforts can become derailed. It is hard to be emotionally responsible for ourselves. We want to be rid of uncomfortable emotions. We want to lash out, to pass them like a hot potato. However, if you recognize the usefulness of emotional responsibility and see it through to resolution, you find that you avoid any emotional damage to your partner. Compromise doesn’t mean losing your voice.
Compromise means that you each maintain creativity to find a solution until everyone feels whole. The key is persevering through the disagreement shoulder-to-shoulder, not nose-to-nose. While beginning to practice this new habit pattern, you may find in the short-term, that vanquishing your enemy may feel wonderful. But then you remember, this is your teammate, your partner, your lover–they deserve your deepest love, respect, and your best self.
The most efficient way to building creative relationship habit patterns is to slow down, to be mindful during disagreements.
Steps to Mindful Relationship Creativity:
- Stop talking.
- Take a breath or two (or 5).
- Remind each other out loud: “We are on the same team.”
- Own your emotions.
- Find a solution.
When you feel like you are taking things personally, stop, take a breath, and say so. It might look like: “(pause) I feel like I need to take a breath and remind myself that we both love each other and want to find a solution here. I noticed I was taking things personally, and I trust you didn’t mean it that way. Help me understand your perspective again.”
Ask Yourself What You Want
A creative relationship only works when partners commit to persevering through the resistance together. Risking vulnerability is part of the process. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt, bringing your best self to difficult interactions, and emotional honesty are prerequisites for this approach.
It takes strong partners to be generous to each other while practicing new, healthy habit patterns. You will not succeed the first time. You will backslide. You will need to support each other to create the relationship that serves you best.
You will have to ask yourself: What do I want? A relationship in which I have to compete with an enemy or a relationship with my biggest fan?
The payoff for all that work is a wildly fulfilling relationship without the destructive fighting that provides abundant love and energy. If you want it, you can have it, together.
More from Good Men Project:
- When Walking Away Is Not Abandonment
- Do You Know How To Let Somebody Love You?
- In Good Times And In Bad. Which Matters More?