From Dr. Jane's Notebook

New rules of engagement for fair fighting

The ability to manage conflict is essential in healthy love relationships. While I often encourage couples to “bring their issues to the table” and engage in a process of brainstorming solutions together, I am aware that this requires a fair amount of trust. Relationships are precious to us and fights are painful. But conflict avoidance is also painful. Ideally, we find ourselves in relationships where we can feel free to be ourselves without fear of rejection. To achieve this goal, it may be necessary to agree on some rules for managing conflicts. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.

·        Working through conflicts brings us closer together. Initially, all relationships are superficial. Relationships deepen when we achieve new levels of understanding and when we survive difficulties together. Couples who have been together a long time have usually survived a variety of trials and tribulations together. All of these life experiences help us mature and develop skills. When we combine our knowledge and experiences, we can help each other solve problems and we can watch each other’s back!

·        We are always learning about ourselves and each other. Every one of us is like a tree. Each day we sprout a few new leaves, we stretch a little further, and we grow in some direction that changes us. This is a healthy part of life. Ideally, being in a relationship affords us someone who will help us celebrate that growth. Best friends share the story of their day, knowing that they will be encouraged, applauded or just listened to. Agree ahead of time not to criticize and not to be judgmental.

·        Problem solving takes a bit of time and patience. If you wish to discuss a particular issue with your beloved, give them the gift of fair-warning. Usually issues come to the surface after we have thought about them for awhile. To be fair, our partners deserve a warning and some time to think about these same issues before being put on the spot. For instance, it should be okay to say, “ I’d like to have a conversation about money, sex, children, relatives, or avoiding jealousy… not now but at some point over the next few days”. Ideally, every problem can be solved constructively but good solutions to problems may require a bit of thought and open discussion. You can agree ahead of time to solve problems together and agree to work on problems until a good solution is found. Patience, trust and perseverance are valuable building blocks in long-term relationships.

·        Stick and stones do break bones and names do hurt relationships. It is important to cool down when you are angry and avoid saying anything you might later have to apologize for. Every name that is called leaves a scar on our trust. Once there is scar tissue, it is no longer safe to be open in a relationship. Before uttering cruel words, consider that they may cost you the entire relationship. There is a very steep price to losing your cool.

When children sit down to play a game, they almost always ask each other, “what are the rules?” This is an attempt to make agreements before conflicts occur. It also recognizes that different people play by different rules. We all bring differences to the table and to our relationships. Hopefully, our differences are recognized as features which attract us to each other and sources of mutual respect. As the saying goes, opposites attract. What could be better than celebrating our differences and learning new things from the ones we love?

©Copyright, 2011, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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