Wondering What You Could Do For A Better Relationship?

June 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Relationship Space

Tayohorse from sxc

What happens when you fight in your relationship?

What’s that? You’re telling me you never fight?

Okay some couples are definitely conflict avoidant. Or at least one person in the couple is severely conflict avoidant and that ensures that conflict rarely gets allowed in!

That happens because somewhere back in time (either as children or even in the early part of the relationship) one or both individuals discovered that conflict was very dangerous and with probably very good reason. Whether that reason is still valid is another matter.

The upside of being conflict avoidant is that the boat doesn’t really get rocked and that’s probably quite peaceful. (I wouldn’t know because I’m a regular boat rocker!) The downside is that frustrations and different opinions don’t get aired much. So nothing much changes in the relationship. And that’s where I start to wonder about the value …

Of course most of us have regular conflicts in our relationships and that’s perfectly normal.

May I just repeat that?

Conflicts in a relationship are normal!

May I just qualify that a little?

Normal conflict does not include physical abuse. Nor does it include persistent contempt and humiliation that amounts to emotional or mental abuse.

Gottman‘s findings suggest that it is how you heal the relationship after conflict that ultimately is the predictor of the longterm health and wellbeing of your relationship.

So I’m left wondering what you do to improve your relationship and to help heal the relationship after conflict?

In fact, what do you currently do during conflict?

If you’re like me then:

  • you’ll be pretty good at hopping up and riding your high horse!
  • you’ll be loud and get louder as your frustration rises.
  • the words always and never seem to appear out of nowhere even though you know they’re not helpful or even true!  (“You never want to discuss our problems” which is of course completely untrue!  Poor SweetP!)
  • you’ll be full of “shoulds” that would ensure your partner changes into something you would never actually like but think it sounds perfectly reasonable to expect in that moment!
  • the sheer effort of trying to control your emotions will lead you to tears.

Thank heavens not everyone is like me! However you’ll probably have your version of traits that you air during a fight and probably despise yourself for later in calmer moments.

But I wonder …

When you’re having these fights do you know what outcome your partner actually wants out of this dispute? Do you even know what you want? (I’m certainly not too sure at times!)

As Peter Pearson says:

When the emotional brain is the ringmaster in an argument, the logical brain is a disengaged bystander. Couples can argue for one heck of a long time while neither person has a clue about the desired outcome.

So I’m wondering what would happen if you simply stopped mid-fight (or even walked a way for a few minutes to cool down and then returned) and simply asked!

  • Would that take the wind out of your full sails?
  • Would that pull you off your high horse?
  • Would it stop the argument in its tracks?

And you know what, it would begin the healing as well.

Because the answer would actually short-cut the debate, and start the problem-solving that is needed for action. After all, a fight is really an indication of how overwhelmed you both are by the problem. And overwhelm goes hand-in-hand with paralysis! While you’re paralysed you’re not acting to make effective change.

Seeing this will be a whole new way to argue, it might be an idea to try this on a simple fight, rather than a “will we move to another country”-type fight. A taking-out-the-rubbish type fight might be a better place to practise.

And of course stopping mid-fight requires you to take a breath and that might help as well.

Hmm. I wonder how many of you will try it?

Perhaps you could tell us if you do, or if you’ve tried it before? How helpful was it?

Ahhh wonder! It is a wonderful thing isn’t it?


5 Responses to “Wondering What You Could Do For A Better Relationship?”
  1. Chania Girl says:

    Loved this post, Chris, and loved your own sharing of conflict in your relationship. I laughed out loud as I recognized some of my own, not-so-honorable patterns. Getting up on the high horse? Heck, I’m like one of those bareback riders at the circus, doing flips!

    What you say about questioning outcomes and desired ends is something that I do occasionally try to do, not always successfully, and certainly not always. There are even times G and I are both, mid-argument, saying, “Well, what do we do with this information?”

    A “wonder”-ful, thought-provoking post, Chris. Thank you.

  2. LG says:

    Certainly an informative and inspiring article. My husband and I have an extremely peaceful relationship MOST of the time, mainly because he is very conflict avoidant, what you said there made so much sense. It has been frustrating at times, as I like to discuss my frustrations until they’re truly dead. On 2nd thoughts discovered over the years, one like me doesn’t really discuss them till they’re dead, one is inclined to discuss them till someone ‘sees’ what you’re saying and ‘possibly agrees’ (my weakness?), thus it has helped that one is ‘conflict avoidant’ as he avoids mainly small irritations in our relationship, I think after 18 years he deserves all the Olympic medals!!!


    Other than that I will truly keep in mind the ‘walk-away-take-a breath-what-do-you-want-from-this-argument’ idea.

    Very helpful indeed..

  3. Joanne says:

    I’m a quiet arguer myself, Chris, more of a debater actually. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, so as to see their point of view.

    When you say that some people are conflict avoidant, well, that has been me, in the past. When my husband recently asked me (repeatedly!) why I had not admitted to being unhappy with some of my choices in previous years, all I could say was, I just didn’t want to fight!

    I’m here to tell you, avoidance does not work! It will always come back to bite you, sometimes years later.

  4. Goodness Me ladies! It seems I have resonated with some of you and really got you thinking about you and what works and what doesn’t!

    Chania, While i call myself a Relationship Advisor, I’m no guru! I’m just as flawed as the rest of the world and i know what I could be doing!!! LOL I am impressed that you are able to occasionally step down this path it’s a very productive and healing one. But take heart none of us will be perfect at it ‘cos we’re all human!

    LG I do know what you mean about the temptation to wring every last DROP of drama out of the conflict (my words and my weakness!) SweetP after 36 years is AMAZINGLY patient and also a medal winner!!

    Joanne, thank you for sharing your experience of just how unproductive avoidance is, it’s far more telling when you say it than when I do! The hard part is that we learn to avoid for good reasons and sometimes we hold on after the danger is passed!

    Thank you ladies for such wonderful, honest and heartfelt comments. I feel quite humble!