8 rules to help you and your partner “fight” well.
Being forced to stay home together can put our relationship skills to the test.
Suddenly the person we chose to support and nourish us with their love and protection is pushing our buttons and causing us more stress than comfort.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of coaching couples, it’s that good relationships aren’t created by chance, or some magical star struck union that was meant to be.
Good relationships happen because two people both agree that there are rules of engagement that make them good. And the big take away for me?
These rules of engagement or relationship skills can be learned and taught.
Like any field of knowledge, couples therapy is always shifting and growing along with our cultural norms, but there are some rock solid unchanging tools that are timeless in keeping the love and respect thriving.
One of them is learning how to fight. That’s right, I use the word fight because if you’re in an intimate relationship with another human being, there will be fights. You can count on it.
We bring our whole selves into a relationship. That includes our own wounds and fears around conflict.
Our upbringing and how we saw people fight around us influenced how we deal with conflict now. The good, bad and the ugly of it.
But it’s never too late to change our unhealthy patterns of conflict and say STOP to old programing that make our fights horrible and hurtful.
I teach couples how to “fight” well in my private online coaching.
Within 3 sessions, they transform their ability to face conflict, work through it, and return to connection.
They are freed from the constant cycle of going into battle with their beloved, which only wears down intimacy and destroys sexual trust and connection.
And what is most rewarding, is to read their emails about how they applied their newly learned fighting skills to real life conflict. Even when triggered, they remembered the fighting agreements they made to move through it as a team.
Acknowledge the inevitable, that at some point you’re both going to find yourselves getting triggered.
You’ll both be gearing up for a fight. Your minds will start racing with accusations and judgments. Blood will start rushing to your head, your heart will start pounding while voices are rising.
Your reptilian brain will take over with the singular focus on surviving.
And what starts coming out of your mouth will no longer be rational, logical or kind.
You’ll find yourself (often within seconds) in fight, flight or freeze. Literally, you’re being run by your reptilian brain and there’s nothing you can do about it in that moment until you find your way back down to a calm state and your amygdala steps back into function.
Your wonderful amygdala is where all the rational, empathetic, compassionate, nurturing parts of you live.
Both parts of our brain, the reptilian and the amygdala are designed to keep us alive. One by fighting, fleeing or freezing, and the other through connection, protection and support.
Our Ninja power in conflict comes when we can move ourselves out of our reptilian brain and back into our emotional brain.
Here are some basic rules for you and your partner to agree to before you find yourselves gearing up for a showdown:
Bring awareness to the fact that you’re starting to get triggered and a fight is looming.
Take a deep breath and stay committed to fighting like a Ninja. Don’t freak out, don’t run away, don’t attack,
Just know that fighting is normal. You’re going to fight on occasion. The skill isn’t learning to never fight, it’s how quickly you move through the fight and back to connection.
Start to take some deep breaths.
Breathing deeply is miraculous! It immediately calms our nervous system and lessens the experience of fight, flight or freeze. It short circuits our animal brain and reengages our emotional brain.
Take full responsibility for your own triggers and emotional reactions.
This is like a light bulb moment for couples when they acknowledge that they’re responsible for their own reactions and their own feelings. Until you can both stop pointing the finger and blaming, and become aware of how you are contributing to the current conflict and speak from that place first, you won’t be able to find resolution.
Be willing to stay in the discomfort of conflict.
That means, don’t blow off your steam and escalate your anger with mean words and personal insults. Don’t swear or raise your voice. Don’t use violence or threats of violence. Don’t make idle threats like leaving the relationship while in a triggered state. Don’t go silent as a form of punishment.
All of these things are ways we avoid the discomfort of disconnection. We run from it by throwing these hand grenades into the fire. Anger overrides the fear and sadness that resides just under the surface.
Staying in the discomfort means assessing what’s needed in order to deescalate and communicate effectively, and trusting that by moving one step at a time you’ll find your way back to connection.
Call for a time out if needed.
Sometimes the best thing to do to step out of an escalation of angry words is taking a time out. You can ask for it with words or you can simply put your hands up in a T shape, signaling to your partner that you need to take some space in order to collect your thoughts.
Time out doesn’t mean stomping out and slamming the door behind you. It’s saying to your partner that you need some space in order to collect your thoughts and deescalate the energy that is leading to hurt feelings.
Tell them how long you’ll be gone if you’re leaving the room. Let them know what you’re doing like going for a walk or moving to another room in the house. Walking out without communicating these things just leaves your partner feeling abandoned, afraid and stewing in their own resentment for being walked out on.
Own your own shit
If you take a time out, use it to look at your part in the conflict. How did you contribute to the escalation. What could you have said or done differently. And be prepared to talk about those things when you come together again.
Nothing disarms a conflict quicker than one person stepping up and owning their part of it.
Don’t be afraid to be the first one to stop blaming and get real, and ask that your partner do the same in exchange.
Coming clean on your part in a misunderstanding or a fight doesn’t mean your taking all the blame. It means that you’re showing the courage to be vulnerable and come back down to the real feelings that lie under the anger, like disappointment, sadness, fear, insecurity, grief. These are all feelings that don’t involve blaming someone else. And once confessed they will move you toward getting to the source of what the fight is really about and deepen your understanding of your reactivity in the moment.
Stop defending and listen deeply
No matter how angry we may feel in the moment we have the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s just a few seconds, we can listen to them and feel what it’s like for them under the anger.
Stop defending yourself for a moment and actually listen. And, as you’re looking at your beloved partner who’s face is glaring back at you, remember this:
Within every angry emotion is a need not being met.
Ask yourself, what is the need that’s not being met right now. What are they crying out for underneath all the anger? What could you do or say right now that would help them connect to what feelings the anger is covering up.
Next week we’ll talk about unpacking a disagreement and coming back to love by using real tools that make your communication effective and your heart connection felt.
If you’re a couple who needs private help in learning how to navigate conflict and fight like ninjas, contact me and we’ll work together online via phone or Zoom.
You can set up a free discovery call with me here: