Relationship Counselling: Losing the ‘Right Fight’

This article explains how to get the best out of your relationship and prevent the lose-lose situation of the ‘right fight’.

We recently observed the loving couple opposite me begin speaking about what type of household chores each had done that week. Their conversation quickly picked up the pace and with increasing strength and conviction they started to time travel, into other moments in their past, raking up beefs they had with each other, and starting to slide down the slippery slope to a full-out row. How commonly we start out trying to establish a fact, or awkwardly ask for some recognition, only to end up in a verbal war with no winners. This a lose-lose situation, the only reward being frustration, helplessness, and despair that we can never be on the same wavelength, or reach an agreement on anything substantial.

How to shut down the ‘right fight’

There are two different ways to communicate our concerns to loved ones. The first way is verbal sparring. This approach is driven by anxiety to be heard, validated, recognised or to win a point. The product ends up in either a heated fight or avoidance with each partner retreating to a place of wounded silence and hurt feelings, if not to the bedroom with the door firmly closed. We have failed again to either share our concerns, negotiate differences, or problem-solve together. Doubts quickly fester about the quality of our relationship and the intimacy we share, and we are more likely to dread the next confrontation and associated helplessness and loneliness as we retreat to separate corners of the fighting rink.

The second way is to communicate things that matter, building an atmosphere of mutual respect and regard. The goal of conversation is not to win the point, but to clarify and achieve a shared understanding of the topic under discussion. This works when we each care what our partner feels, needs and wants in the world. We aim for a win-win without the need for a ‘right fight’.

This method does not come easily. It helps to regard these communications as we would a business meeting. (After all, how much shared business is incorporated into our most important relationships?). In a business meeting, the prudent keep calm, so they can think straight. They prepare, so they are clear about their concerns, feel in control and can keep their attention and concentration to one point at a time, not flitting from issue to issue.

How to stay calm in a discussion with your partner

How do we keep calm when we are concerned about something? Consider that people often shape thoughts with words. We don’t quite know what we are thinking until we put it in words. If we do this during the discussion, it is very easy to become diverted to other points, as emotions climb. Sometimes, when needing to discuss our concerns, we might not have even clarified them to ourselves.

The solution to this is to take some time to journal what concerns we are noticing. Put it all down, and then leave it for a while until we are again quite calm. Read it again, and try to strip out all the emotion, and aim to narrow it down to one or two points that seem absolutely clear and a fair thing to broach with our partner.

Change your approach

Consider your approach. Ask your partner when it would suit to have a talk and set an agreed time. Sometimes, couples find it easier to speak whilst out walking, instead of eyeballing each other over the breakfast bar. Stick to the point and remember that you each have the right to differ, but the aim is to demonstrate respect and regard. If you start to get upset, take a break and calm down. Never talk about anything serious when you’ve been drinking, or when upset. Stick to the time, stick to the topic, keep calm, aim for mutual respect and regard.

This works well if your partner is receptive and responsive. From experience as a mediator, an agreement can be reached by even the most polar opposites. If not, don’t despair, there are other strategies which can help.

Practice makes perfect. Good luck!