How to fight fairly

November 18, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

While disagreements are bound to crop up in relationships, there's no need to knock the wind out of your partner with name-calling and put-downs.

Fight fairly.

cont. from lifestyle

Sex, money and children are common sources of disagreement, says Anne Leedy, director of outpatient services at Cumberland Valley Mental Health Center in Chambersburg, Pa.

But there are ways to disagree without being hostile or unkind.

"Healthy disagreement is openly talking about issues and striving to clearly define yourself. This is very hard for most people," says Nancy Barnett, a licensed clinical social worker and director of An Individual, Marriage and Family Therapy Center, which has offices in Hagerstown, Annapolis and Frederick, Md.

Sometimes couples fight because that's how their parents communicated, but that doesn't mean they're doomed to years of raised voices.

"I believe people can relearn behavior," says Ann Wilson, a licensed professional counselor who has a private practice in Shepherdstown, W.Va.



Stay focused

"Try to stick to the topic that you're having a disagreement on," Leedy says.

If the issue at hand isn't the root of the argument, don't pretend that it is. If you know what is triggering the anger, talk about that instead.

Set aside time to talk and resolve your differences without distractions.

If you have children, ask them to give you some time alone. They need to understand that their parents need some space and have problems that need to be worked out.

"You need to model to your children not to avoid conflict," Leedy says. They have conflicts in their lives, too, she says, and can learn from you that they can be worked out.

While it's hard to make time in the midst of hectic schedules, Leedy does not recommend waiting until bedtime to hash out sticky issues. Couples are too tired then and are likely to get irritated easily.


Things to avoid

Stay away from threats, blaming, name-calling and being defensive, Barnett says. Also steer clear of comparing your partner in negative ways to other people.

Do not let your frustrations stew, Barnett says. However, if you tend to be reactive, take some time to collect yourself before confronting your partner.


Communication exercises

There are some exercises couples can do to enhance their communication skills.

One is called "active listening," in which one person speaks and the other repeats back what she heard.

"Listen before you say anything," Leedy says.

Try to stay calm and be patient while your partner speaks, says Barnett, whose center offers support groups for men and women involved in couple's counseling. Participants share their feelings separately with people of the same sex.

When talking with your partner, ask questions about his viewpoints and feelings rather than jumping into the conversation with your own opinions, Barnett adds.

Leedy says half of the time, the receiver of the information is hearing it wrong.

If what your partner says is not the message you were trying to convey, clarify your point, Wilson says.

After explaining your side, talk in a positive way about what you would like to see changed in your relationship, Barnett says.

"It is a constructive request," Barnett says, and one that your partner may not be able to make happen.

Wilson also considers family meetings to be a beneficial exercise.

She recommends couples bring an object of familial value such as a wedding memento or trinket representing their children to such a gathering.

"Whoever is holding that gets to say their piece," Wilson says. Then the object is passed to the other person and he or she gets to speak without interruption.


Remember the positives

Make an effort to focus on the positives in your relationship.

Designate date nights, time when you can "try to set aside the garbage" that's keeping you apart and just enjoy each others' company, Leedy says.

Be thoughtful. Leave a nice note or send a card to remind your partner that there are elements to your relationship that are healthy and happy.

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