Why Do We Always Fight? Is There Something Wrong with Our Relationship?
Damn right there is! You and your partner have unconsciously polluted the space where you both live and you don’t know how to clean it! Your relationship lives in the space between you, says Martin Buber, the philosopher and Hedy Schleifer, master relationship expert. That space is sacred space and when you pollute it, the space becomes dangerous and you react to the danger in the space. When that happens, you disconnect and go into crisis. If you don’t know how to clean the space, your relationship is either doomed or you live lives of quiet desperation. (Thoreau)
There is no intimacy without conflict; unless of course, you agree never to disagree. Then you have a codependent relationship. In healthy relationships, neither partner subjugates their feelings to please the other. Conflicts need to be externalized and resolved. Couples need to have rules to negotiate differences. There are many modalities that teach couples how to have effective communication. The one I find most effective is Encounter-centered Couples Therapy, founded by Hedy Schleifer, however I utilize many other therapeutic approaches that can easily be incorporated. Employing different techniques in couple’s therapy, helps increase optimum results. Note that none of these can be successful without the art of presenting.
What is presencing?
It is the willingness to be in the here and now, focused, attuned and mindful to your partner with soft eyes, an open heart and mind. This means giving full attention with your eyes and ears. It includes active listening and patience. Hedy Schleifer defines the three invisible connectors: the relational space, crossing the bridge and the encounter.
- The relational space:
Your relationship does not live in you or your partner. It lives in the space between both of you. That space is sacred space. If you are fighting about the same thing over and over with no resolution you have polluted that space. When you don’t know about the space or how to clean it, you disconnect and go into crisis.
- Crossing the Bridge:
The second invisible connector is crossing the bridge to your partner’s world. This is a process that requires you to leave everything that is yours– your opinions, your pre-conceived notions, your thoughts, ideas, understandings, prejudices, etc. and cross over an imaginary bridge to your partner’s neighborhood. When you land on the other side, you can learn the language and the landscape of your partner’s world. If you bring anything from your side, it’s an illegal import and must be taken back to your world.
- The Encounter
The encounter happens when you visit your partner’s world with new eyes and an open heart. You are the visitor and your partner, the host. You listen actively, repeat what your partner had shared with you in 5 words or less, then ask “Am I with you?” If your partner affirms that you are with him, you simply say, “Tell me more.” There is no dialogue; only a visit. The same process occurs when you are the host and your partner, the visitor. This process is conducted by a therapist who has learned the art of EcCT, (Encounter-centered Couples Therapy.) EcCT is based largely upon the work of Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, the founders of Imago Therapy and the authors of GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT.
If you want to learn more about this process, I invite you to read my book, I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success to be released on October 11, 2020. It will give you a precise experience as if you were a fly on the wall observing the encounter.
In the meantime, here are ten fair fighting rules designed by John Bradshaw, not related to EcCT, however will help you negotiate the differences in your relationship. (BRADSHAW: ON THE FAMILY)
- BE ASSERTIVE
Learn how to ask for what you need and express your feelings. Unless your partner hears your feelings and what you are experiencing, he can never read your mind. It is important to express your truth even if it sometimes means hurting your loved one or making him angry. It takes courage to confront someone you love, but if you don’t, nothing gets accomplished and your resentment grows, hurting both you and the relationship. If your man can’t handle your feelings, perhaps you don’t belong with him or you need to be in couples therapy to help work them through with a professional counselor.
- STAY PRESENT AND IN THE NOW
It is important to hear what your partner is saying and for him to be willing to hear you. Going back in history and collecting data to make your point of what is happening now, is not as effective as being specific about what just occurred. If today’s problem is a re-occurring theme that you’ve swept under the carpet for fear of his response or to avoid conflict, then perhaps you can give him an account of several instances when this occurred, but from then on, stay in the moment with current issues. Collecting stamps and storing them up, often causes you to act out your anger as opposed to expressing it. You don’t want to lose your essence and stay in survival mode. It is better to be authentic.
- AVOID LECTURING
Nothing turns a guy off more than having you lecture him and force advice down his throat. Lecturing is a sure way for him to go into fight or flight. It will surely remind him of someone in his past, perhaps his mother or father, depending who did the lecturing when he was being scolded as a child. It will only trigger a trauma and cause him to become reactive instead of proactive.
- AVOID JUDGMENT & CRITICISM
Expressing judgments and criticism are other ways to incite a fight. Whenever you throw judgments around, it will spin right back to you. Judgments and criticism are two of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse that John Gottman identifies in his work with couples. Contempt and stonewalling are the other two. All these behaviors will induce shame, pollute the space and create distance between you.
- HONESTY AND ACCURACY
Nothing works better than being honest. Changing the facts to massage your point, exaggerating or stretching the story only creates a stronger defense from the other side. Remember, the brain often distorts, deletes and generalizes information. It is very important to be as accurate and honest as you can. Three people who witness an accident will report it differently. This is because we all wear different filters based on our biological make up and history when we perceive. Being rigorously honest is your best bet.
- DON’T ARGUE ABOUT DETAILS
Another way to lose your partner’s interest and patience is to detail him to death. Guys want the bottom line. Just make it brief and to the point. If he needs more information, he will ask for it. If you repeat the same things over and over, add insignificant details to magnify the case, you will lose him in the process. Stay with specific sensory, based data. Sometimes less is more!
- DON’T ASSIGN BLAME
When you make him at fault, he will find a reason to make you at fault. Remember, it’s not a blame game. Unless he abuses you, ignores you, or is MIA, don’t blame. If he does any of the ones mentioned in the above sentence, it’s time for a professional counseling or exiting!
- USE ACTIVE LISTENING
It’s very easy to unload on him; it’s harder to listen. Listen with a third ear. That takes practice. Mirror back what he says; “What I heard you say…Am I with you?” If he says yes, then ask him to tell you more. Many women want to jump in and battle with their tongues. If you learn to listen, you may be surprised. He may have said something you might have missed by jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. Good listening is at least 50% of communication. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s what you hear. Selective hearing might only be part of the dialogue; not the entire message. We tend to hear what we choose.
- FIGHT ABOUT ONE THING AT A TIME
Many people have a bad habit of leashing out a laundry list when they argue. Remember, the goal is to stay with one thing at a time. If you present him with a list of character defects and instances that occurred last year, or maybe 5 or 10 years ago, he will either become defensive or check out. Many women carry a gunnysack with them when they fight and stack up evidence that includes every infraction that occurred in their entire relationship. This will never bring about a successful resolution.
- HANG IN THERE. GO FOR A SOLUTION RATHER THAN BEING RIGHT Would you rather be right or happy? Staying in there battling it out with effective fair fighting tools will be your best ticket to intimacy. Sure you will have differences. Who doesn’t? But, communication begins with discussion; not sex. Sex will not resolve your issues. Sex can be more exciting after the fight, but only with resolution. Many couples use sex as a distraction to discussion; NOT A RESOLUTION. Use your tools to fight fair, and your sex life will improve! Once you have resolution, the intimacy in your relationship rises to a new level.
Many couples had poor role modeling growing up in their family of origin. They never witnessed healthy resolutions, instead heard their parents arguing about the same things without any solution. We only know what we know, therefore, we bring our past into our present repeating the same dysfunction again.
If you still have difficulty resolving a conflict, you might want to consider setting up a session with a couple’s counselor. I have spent many years working with couples, and I am thrilled to say that applying the principles and rituals of Encounter-centered Couples Therapy designed by Hedy Schleifer is one of the most effective tools for optimum outcomes. I am a graduate of her three-year Master Class and have applied this methodology to many couples who have learned new ways to communicate and resolve issues that have played over and over in their relationships. I invite you to contact me if you want to learn how to “cross the bridge” to your partner’s world and re-connect to create and maintain a healthy, mature and sacred relational space.
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker and author of I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success to be released May, 2020. To learn more about how Encounter-Centered Couple Therapy can renew and restore your relationship, visit joanechilds.com