Relationships, couples therapy, ways to turn fights and arguments into productive conversations

THIS not THAT – 7 Ways to Stop Fighting in Relationships

How we deliver a message can be as important as the message itself. As I’m sitting with a couple watching them in the throes of a conflict, oftentimes I can see where the conversation is headed.

More so, I can see what each partner is really trying to get at – the more meaningful element of the conversation that is hidden behind harsh words and defensiveness.

I remember one particular couple,

I had interjected and said that I wanted to slow it down and gently express the hurt out of the conversation. I could tell the female was irritated with me, as I had suggested we try a “gentle start up”.  (This is a common skill used by Gottman Therapists that get couples to remove the elements of their conversation that are more likely to create conflict). 

Ill never forget the moment she looked at me and she said:

“This is turning the conversation into fluff!”.

I was actually lucky enough to be heading to a training session with the founders of the therapy model – John and Julie Gottman.

I took the opportunity to ask them about clients that resist the idea of a gentle start-up and refer to it as fluff. As expected, their response was quite on point!

Julie said, as the couple:

“Do you want to be in a relationship that feels like sandpaper or fluff?”.

It was such a simple explanation.

While this might seem obvious or like “fluff”, fluff might be exactly what your relationship needs to get back on track! The way I see it is that fluff is actually a way of showing your partner simple respect when having a difficult conversation. 

There are some common pitfalls I’ve seen couples say that could have been made into “fluff” that their partner could hear,

SO…..


HERE ARE 7 WAYS TO STOP FIGHTING AND TURN ARGUEMENTS INTO PRODUCTIVE CONVERSATIONS:

1) Instead of Saying 'You Said' - Say "What I'm Hearing You Say is..."

“You said” leaves space for your partner to play semantics with words. If instead you say…

“what I heard you say was…”

This gives your partner the opportunity to both see where the conversation might have been misunderstood but also a chance to correct it.

It’s a lot easier to correct a conflict from a misunderstanding when there is room to correct what was said.

2) Use Similes

“You said” leaves space for your partner to play semantics with words. If instead you say…

“what I heard you say was…”

This gives your partner the opportunity to both see where the conversation might have been misunderstood but also a chance to correct it.

It’s a lot easier to correct a conflict from a misunderstanding when there is room to correct what was said.

3) Don’t say "You never" or "You always"

Its a good approach to stay away from these phrases if you want a productive conversation.

e.g. “you never clean up, I’m always cleaning up after you”

The person you are speaking with will find the exception to the rule to defend their themselves, and you ultimately wont be heard for what you are really trying to express.

Instead try using the following and filling in the blanks:

“I feel____ about____ and I need____”

eg. I feel unsupported about getting stuff done around the house and I need more consistent help

This is exactly the kind of ‘fluff’ a relationship needs to be able to talk about issues without them becoming fights.

This approach allows sensitive issues to be talked about by not making it about the partner’s perceived mistakes, and reduces the tendency to get stuck in defensiveness.

4) Don't say "That’s not true"

Instead say “I don’t see it that way”. This small change can avoid triggering your partner’s defensiveness.

Using “that’s not true”, will immediately lead to an argument because it right out denies your partners perspective. Our perspective is our reality and in turn, your partner will feel as though they need to defend their perspective.

Instead saying, “I don’t see it that way” allows you to be direct about your own perspective, while removing the element of denying your partner their own. When it comes to correcting a conflict that didn’t go well this is often a critical piece. If we are denied our reality than we will have a harder time coming to a mutual understanding.

5) Don't say "You need to calm down"

This can come off to the other partner as a judgement that you are losing your cool and need to get your act together.

Instead consider saying we might be flooded here and we need to take a 20 minute break”.

Research suggests we will reach a point where continuing to have the conversation will only make things worse. If someone is flooded and are told to ‘calm down’ this will likely only get them more distressed. Instead using the approach of suggesting it may be a good time to take a break, is really a softer way of saying the same thing!

Once couples have taken a break, research has show that they can come back to the issue much more effectively, especially when a gentle start up is used. Additionally couples who know when to stop the conversation to calm down are ahead of the game!

6) Don’t say "You’re not trying to see where I’m coming from"

Instead say “Can you try to see things from my perspective?”

Validation is the foundation of connection during difficult conversations and is very powerful in reducing the tension in a conversation.

If someone isn’t validating your experience, asking them to try to see things from your perspective is more likely to get a validating response. Alternatively using something like “your not even listening”! would just lead to further defensive arguments.

It can be important to let your partner know that seeing things from your perspective doesn’t mean that you completely agree, but that you still can have a different perspective you want them to understand.

7) Don't give up and say "You are impossible"

Be clear, direct and gentle, and say “what I need is”, or “It’s really important for me that I feel you understand”.

It’s important not to give up on the challenging conversation you have. Small frustrating conversations that end with someone giving up or giving in far too often build into resentment in the relationship that couples have a hard time working through in therapy.  

Conclusion

The ultimate goal is to be able to bring up a ‘hot topic’ and instead of fighting about it, have it turn into a meaningful conversation. These conversations can actually build the strength of the relationship when done effectively.

That may mean getting comfortable with using “fluff” instead of ”sandpaper” in your relationship.

While some people might feel like the ‘fluff’ is more effort or maybe even less satisfying in a moment of anger, the truth is ‘fluff’ can also be effective in you getting what you want in difficult conversations and protecting your relationship.

Trillium Counselling provides Couples Counselling services Kitchener Waterloo area and online via Online Counselling. Contact us today for a consultation or to book an appointment!

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