On the heels of the news this weekend that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will allegedly be separating, I wanted to take the opportunity to encourage people to learn how to fight fair. Fighting in a relationship is not in itself a bad thing – in fact it’s usually necessary for a relationship to survive. A relationship without passion enough to launch arguments likely won’t last for the long haul. However, arguing in the wrong way can also drive a relationship into the ground. I talk about the dialogue necessary to fight fair in my book Make Up Don’t Breakup (which will be re-released in March with new chapters).
Additionally, Brad and Angelina are definitely in a unique situation, but also share some common denominators that many of us have experienced. Angelina is likely looking for a new adventure as a response to her feelings of separation and loss she may still be dealing with due to her mother passing away. She’s experiencing what I call a Biochemical Craving for Connection. This can be momentarily assuaged by engaging in thrill-seeking behavior such as requesting and open relationship, traveling, working, or engaging in an affair (among many other things) but it only leads to a more pronounced cycle of stress, separation and loss when each “adventure” winds down and the person is left with the original feelings.
Have A Heart To Heart Talk With Your Partner
I encourage having a weekly ten minute heart-to-heart with a figurative emotional “bullet proof vest” to protect from hurt, anger and defensiveness, as you listen and echo back what you heard. It is essential to walk in your partner’s shoes rather than trying to be right. Instead of shame and blame you should give three solutions, and your partner has to pick at least one. Arguing fairly creates the tension that gives you passion and makes you feel safe. Here are a few other pointers:
- Ask permission – you want the other person to be engaged in the conversation, so make sure it’s a good time for them, too. You should make an “appointment” for a specific time to make sure that the issue will be handled.
- Put time limits on the “fight” – it’s OK to walk away and come back later as long as it’s mutual and done with respect. Everyone has different thresholds for what they can tolerate during an argument.
- Use “I” sentences – don’t blame or criticize.
- Echo what you hear and validate your partner’s feelings – truly listen to the other person and let them hear you repeat their thoughts and concerns back to them. This assures them that you ARE paying attention and not just continuing with your “agenda.”
- Detach from your emotions – try not to let your responses be emotional, but rather focus on the facts and the truth.
- After a fair and productive fight, remember things that each person needs to work on, and commit to trying to change the behaviors that may have created.