Friday, August 20, 2010

Fighting Fair Could Save Your Marriage

Fighting in a relationship doesn't have to signal the end – but rather, it's HOW we fight that makes all the difference. I've long been teaching couples how to fight fair and now new research shows that it's things like our tone of voice, words we use, whether or not we hear each other out that contributes to how effective and productive fighting can be, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"All couples disagree—it's how they disagree that makes the difference," explains Howard Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Denver and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies. Dr. Markman has conducted research that looks at how couples deal with conflict for the last 30 years. He found that, perhaps surprisingly, fighting doesn't necessarily mean a relationship is on the rocks, in fact, couples who argue well are happier. Or, as Dr. Markman says, "You can get angry, but it's important to talk without fighting."

The latest statistics from his research published in the Journal of Family Psychology also show that couples who had trouble with communication and used it in a negative way before marriage – ie, to criticize, belittle, leave the room during an argument or disagreement – were more likely to end up divorcing.

Perhaps surprisingly, there's also little distinction made about the so-called differences between arguing, fighting, bickering or even nagging – they're all forms of expressing dissatisfaction with a situation or a person and learning how to convey these feelings, and how to respond to them, can make all the difference. Here are some things I've been telling my patients about how to fight fair:

You can start out by using what I call “Smart Heart Skills and Dialogue,” which I talk about in my book, “Adultery the Forgivable Sin.” The idea is to provide a safe place where each person can feel comfortable talking about their fears and frustrations. These types of habits can be the glue that helps to create passion in a relationship, even during and spite of disagreements and conflict.

Just as learning to fight fair can be imperative to a successful relationship, arguing in the wrong way can also drive a relationship into the ground. 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. In this scenario, each partner agrees to be sensitive but frank and to not take things personally.

But the bottom line is, don't push things under the rug and believe the lie that people in good marriages don't fight. It's HOW you fight that's important.

- Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

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