“My boyfriend and I had a terrible fight. I’m so sick of this. Is it over?”
We think of fights as horrible, destructive agents of relationship doom, and we want to avoid them at all costs. From our culture, to our personal histories, we learn arguments are a thing to fear. But what if we could see arguments as both normal and even helpful? Is there an alternative to arguments or a way to create harmony after one has already begun?
What is an argument REALLY?
Arguments are all unique combinations of different energies: misunderstandings, miscommunications, trapped emotions, or projections of past events. But they are also an alarm system that show us where something unhealthy or unworkable has been existing in our relationship in the same way that pain alerts our brain that we’ve touched a hot pot. Arguments highlight whatever we have been afraid or unable to clearly communicate in other ways.
Why do fights strike out of the blue?
A fight might seem to come out of the blue when you least expect it like a thunderstorm. But just like a thunderstorm, those clouds have been forming for a long time before they release lighting and rain. Just as tiny droplets of water gather together to form a cloud, something that has not been dealt with gathers strength and intensity over time. Related and unrelated hurts and topics coalesce into the perfect storm where both parties defend and attack. Even someone with a short fuse has been dealing with unexpressed energy for a long time.
Not clearly communicating
Barb hates that her husband Bill has suddenly been leaving dirty dishes in the sink. He used to clean up after himself and the kids but he doesn’t anymore. Does he think I’m his maid? This is really disrespectful. I’ve told him before that I don’t like that and could you stop it and he just keeps DOING it. Is he having an affair? Barb cleans the dishes angrily, and every now and then she let’s him know she’s unhappy by muttering, “I see the dishes are out again…” or “Can you clean these?,” as she broods about other hurts and slights. She even tries leaving the dishes dirty in an attempt to get hubby to clean up but instead they pile up and she ends up cleaning them anyway. Finally one day she snaps yelling, “Put these @#$% dishes away, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you even care?!” Bill lashes out, “The way I do dishes is never good enough for you!” and a full born fight is born.
In the above example Barb did just about everything EXCEPT clearly communicating her feelings. She shows her anger, but by constantly cleaning up the dishes and making passive comments, she’s not really letting Bill know that this issue matters to her nor is she looking for a solution; pretty soon the geyser erupts. Nobody likes conflict. I often hear people say things like, “But I DID try to talk about this.” But our fears lead us to fool ourselves about how well we’re actually communicating our feelings or needs. Most of the time we try to tell someone how we feel either so timidly that they don’t feel we take the matter seriously, or in the white hot fire of our most hurt feelings… when we attack and throw word bombs, or flee. Both people now are hurt, triggered and unwilling to find solutions.
From dishes to larger and more emotional topics, this is how most arguments form. Even the ones that seem blindsiding or unfair. Someone was unwilling (or afraid) to communicate in other ways.
Is there an alternative?
It’s not always easy, but there is another way to expose unhealthy systems within a relationship, or to talk about things that bother us. This way allows both people to be understood and to find solutions to their problems -even if a fight has already started!
Here’s the energetic recipe that works: willingness, compassion, firmness, clarity, and invitation.
Barb sits down one afternoon with her husband and, without other distractions and when the kids are school, she looks him in the eye and speaks in a firm but calm tone of voice, “Bill I know I’ve been the one cleaning up the dishes in the sink, and I know you’re really in a hurry to teach your classes, I know you’re busy. In the last few weeks though, I’ve cut my hand on a broken glass because there was just too much piled up when you and the kids made breakfast, and I’ve found myself not having time to do the things I need to do on my own tight schedule. Can we please find some way to make a better plan? I want to understand why you quit helping with the dishes lately?”
Being willing to have the conversation in the first place is the first brave step towards averting an argument. You’re willing to hear the other person’s perspective and set your mental decisions about their motives (he’s disrespectful) aside. You show your compassion by showing them you see their efforts and obstacles. When you speak about what’s important to you, firmness doesn’t have to be hostile, firmness can be kind but it does make sure that the other person understands you. Saying what you mean to say in the most simple, direct, calm way is the essence of clarity. Being emotional, attacking or demanding simply shuts the other person (and yourself) down. Finally, inviting the person to help you by asking for ways to resolve the issue, or for greater understanding of the problem
The most important roadblock:
The biggest roadblock towards mending fences or preventing arguments is not fear, it’s not anger, it’s not even misunderstandings. The true energetic block i see most often is a fear of joining the other person. If we ask that other person for help, or input we’re vulnerable. It means we have to let go of the anger, resentment and revenge that has been our protective shield. It might seem illogical, but count the times you’ve said to yourself, “NO I don’t want to talk to her. If I try to make this better, then I’m the weak one, I’m the one giving up my power” or, “you know what? I don’t want a solution… I want him to know how much he hurt me.”
Our ego, in fear, simply does NOT want to cooperate. But, if we get past this roadblock, all those negative feelings and defense of who is right or wrong melts into greater understanding, intimacy and solutions. No, not all fights will get you what you want. Sometimes arguments are about letting painful emotions and topics come to the surface for you to work more on or about seeing a difficult reality clearly. They aren’t all as easy as dirty dishes, but as you practice moving energy in communication (so that it doesn’t build up) you will experience shorter, gentler “arguments” and more understanding.
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