Fighting Fair in A Relationship: How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It

Fighting Fair: How to Get What You Want and Stay Close While You're Doing it.

I used to have this idea that real love was when two people remembered birthdays, anniversaries, and never fought. Fighting, even if it was fighting fair, was for the more incompatible.

Fast forward a couple of decades and what can I say? Not a lot really because I’m almost choking on the naïvety of it all. But let me explain …

My parents never fought, so I had good reason to believe that a fight-free relationship was possible. They never said a bad word about each or to each other. They didn’t say many words to each other at all. They didn’t hold hands. Or each other. They didn’t laugh together or ‘hang out’ together. I never heard them say, ‘I love you’ and I didn’t see them smother each other’s bad days with kisses. Eventually, they divorced. I know they were in love with each other once, it’s just that somewhere along the way they stumbled and fell out of it.

Clearly, it was pretty easy not to fight. They did it. I could do it. Because I would be in ‘real love’.

And then I met the man who would become my husband. And then we had our first fight. And quite a few more since. 

The love is real and so are the fights. What wasn’t real was that idea of real love that used to throw itself into my ‘one days’ like pixie dust. 

Fighting is a part of any relationship. It’s going to happen, but it doesn’t have to lessen it. Having know-how around fighting fair can not only save a relationship, but also make sure you both get what you need and bring you closer. Few things will fuel intimacy, connection and closeness like being seen, being heard and coming through a storm side by side.

Researchers have found that one of the best predictors of divorce is not whether a couple fights, but how they fight.

All couples have probably fought dirty at least once, but the relationship will struggle when this way of relating becomes characteristic.

Everyone has needs and getting them met in the context of a relationship is important. Unmet needs will fester and push for resolution in some way. This might take the form of barbed comments here and there, criticism, or a distancing. You won’t always agree – and that’s fine – but being able to fight fairly for the important things, or through to the end of the unimportant things, is critical for the longevity of your relationship.  Here are the do’s and don’ts of fighting fair.

  1. Don’t fear conflict.

    Conflict is an opportunity for growth. When you intimately share your life with someone there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes a lot of them. Conflict is normal. healthy and sometimes necessary when there is something important at stake for one or both of you. It isn’t always easy to do, but receiving conflict well or raising a difficult issue sensitively will provide the opportunity to see each other, notice each other and learn from each other. 

  2. Attack the issue, not each other.

    Don’t name call or bring the other person down to get on top of the argument. The potential to cause scars is enormous. It’s too easy to say things that can’t be taken about.

  3. Stay with the issue at hand.

    Don’t bring in irrelevant details just to prove your point. It’s so tempting to confirm your ‘rightness’ by highlighting the other person’s ‘wrongness’, but don’t. It’s the quickest way to send an argument off track and land you in a place where you forget what you were fighting for. 

  4. Don’t confuse the topics with the issue.

    If you keep fighting over different things but you always seem to end up on the same issue (e.g. money or the night he/you came home late), that issue is actually where your work needs to be. Something about that issue is unresolved and the topics – the little things that start the arguments (e.g. the towels on the floor) – are just the way the issue calls you both back to the plate to deal with it. The topics aren’t the problem. The issue is. Find out exactly what it is (though you will probably already have a fair idea!) and deal with it. Give what’s needed for the issue to let go of the grip it has on your relationship, whether that’s air time, validation, acknowledgement, an apology or reassurance.

  5. Don’t downplay the issue.

    For an issue to be an issue it only takes one of you to believe it is. You don’t need to agree but you do need to listen. Let your partner know you’ve heard them and that you understand. People don’t stop feeling a certain way just because they’re told to stop. (Would be nice if it was that simple though!) If an issue is ignored it won’t go away. Needs always push for completion – it’s just the way it is. If feelings or needs aren’t resolved, they will come out through other topics (that fiery argument about being ten minutes late to dinner isn’t really about dinner), or they’ll brew. Sometimes all it takes is validation or acknowledgement. ‘I know how important this is to you, I’m just really stuck with what to do about it.’

  6. Don’t withdraw. Or chase.

    This is different to taking time out to cool down and get your thoughts together. People withdraw when they feel attacked, bored or disinterested and will pull back in an attempt to maintain autonomy, control and distance. Research has found a direct association between withdrawal and lower relationship satisfaction. If the silent treatment is your typical response, it will do damage. If you’re feeling attacked, try to find a way to discuss this without going on the attack yourself. If you’re bored or disinterested, is it with the issue or the relationship? What is it about either that is making you want to pull back?

    If your partner is withdrawing, is it possible that he or she feels attacked? One way to change that is to name your contribution to the issue, however small. ‘I know I probably haven’t helped things by …’ or, ‘I know I upset you when I …’ This makes it easier for your partner to trust that you aren’t only out for blood.

  7. Be open about what you need. Nobody can read your mind.

    Conflicts in which one person expects another to know what is wrong without being told are more likely to end with anger or negative communication. Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.

  8. Find the real emotion beneath the anger.

    It can be hard not to turn away when someone is angry with you (I may have done it once or twice or too many times myself) but anger is a secondary emotion – it never exists on its own and always has another emotion beneath it. The common culprits are sadness, hurt, insecurity, jealousy or frustration. If you can notice the real emotion you’ll have a better chance of responding to the real issue. Don’t turn your back, look away or pretend you’re doing something important while your partner is spilling himself or herself to you – you might miss something important that clues you in on what’s really going on. Few things deepen a connection more than being seen.

  9. Be attentive.

    Unless your teen is face-timing you from the tattoo parlour with a short list and it’s the first you’ve heard of any of it, don’t look at your phone, or anything else that will take you away from the heat. If your body shows up to the plate but your mind is on what to have for dinner, a couple of things could happen – none of them good. One is that the argument will keep going until your attention is turned to face. Another is that the argument will stop being about the issue at hand and will become about the way you ‘never listen’, or ‘don’t care’ – or anything else that fits your process. Avoid the fallout by being attentive. 

  10. Don’t yell.

    Start yelling and before you know it, you’ll be arguing about arguing. If the argument is at yelling point, nobody is being heard because nobody is listening. At this point, someone needs to be the hero and calm it all down. ‘I’m trying to understand what you want but we have to stop yelling first.’ Otherwise, suggest you both take a break but make sure that you name a time to come back to it. Don’t let it get swept under the rug. Rugs don’t tend to fade issues into nothingness – they hide the detail but not the fact that something is in the way.

  11. Stay away from ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.

    Make a generalisation and you can bet that what will come next is an explanation of the exception. Use specific examples or if your partner is doing the generalising, ask for specific examples. Nobody is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything and using these words will just inflame.

  12. Be curious.

    Ask for more details. It’s tempting to launch into a defence when there’s a hint of attack but this is rarely helpful and usually escalates the argument. It also means that while the other person is speaking, you are probably formulating your response rather than listening. Slow things down and ask for details. This shows that you’re open to getting things sorted out.

  13. Fully and honestly accept that nobody is perfect. Seriously. Nobody.

    Be open to accepting criticism. Is it the feedback that’s difficult to stomach or the way it’s delivered. Try to hear the message, even if it is being delivered in a way that is hard to hear. If you are the one with the wise words, say it in a way that can be heard by being generous in the delivery. ‘I know you probably didn’t mean it the way it came across but when you …’ or ‘I miss you when we fight. Can we talk about it?’

  14. Watch out for the passive-aggressive.

    Know that if you have to say, ‘I’m just being honest …’, or ‘I’m not criticising you but …’ or ‘You’re probably not going to like hearing this but …’ – you’re in no way softening the blow. You’re also not fooling anyone – all of these statements generally come just before an accusation. In fact, you’ll probably feel your partner bracing for the next round before the final word has left your mouth.

  15. If you’re wrong, apologise.

    Be humble. Be honest. Fullstop.

  16. If you’re going around in circles, stop.

    Cycles become vicious ones before you know it. If you or your partner are repeating the same things, you’re stuck in a loop. People repeat things because they don’t feel heard. Slow things down and communicate to your partner your understanding of their side of things. Then hopefully they will slow down to hear yours. If you’re the one who isn’t feeling heard, try finding a different way to say it and check you aren’t too much on the attack. You have nothing to lose – cycles are breeders and they tend to make uglier ones. Stop them before they spin out of control.

  17. Find the common ground.

    There’s usually something you can find to agree on, even if it’s that you don’t want to fight. ‘So we both agree that …’ Anything that will help to get you both back on the same team is a good thing. It’s also a way to validate your partner and let them know you see them.

  18. Give in or compromise on something – however small.

    Finding something you can give on will help progress the situation along. Generally in a fight, the more one person pulls, the more the other pulls in the other direction. Take a step, however small, back to the middle ground by offering a compromise. Any small concession is the groundwork for bigger ones.

  19. Don’t leave it unfinished.

    Find a resolution, otherwise it will continue to press for closure.

And finally …

Fighting is inevitable and not all healthy couples fight fair all of the time. Doors may get slammed. Things may be said. And plastic containers may get thrown across the room. Having know-how around fighting fair is a powerful thing. It will bring you closer to being able to get what you want and at the same time solidify your relationship. Anything that can bring you through to the other side of an argument still holding hands – or wanting to hold hands – is certainly worth the effort.

38 Comments

Kathryn

I can’t get past the first stages of a relationship because I feel like if there is a fight early on its not a good sign. I also have past trauma from people that I thought were nice but then I ended up getting completely screwed over to the point of needing permanent counseling. I held in my urge to fight with people for so long but that just gets me the silent treatment or walked all over. I just want to do what I want for once but I feel like my needs are never met and I always have to listen to someone else. I literally stare at the wall for hours due to this draining me. I need a friend what should I do? I’m really not that bad but I feel like everyone I know keeps trying to provoke me as much as they can so they can feel better because despite all this I am reasonably well behaved.

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Katherine

First, what do you mean by “first stages”? Second, what about have a disagreement/argument (words matter. It might not always be a “fight”) feels like a warning sign? Is it about the person, yourself, or smthng else? Would you voice your discomfort w/ someone you don’t care about/whose opinion doesn’t matter to you? The way I look at disagreements w/ friends, partners, family, etc, is you’re calling attention smthng you dislike, in hopes of reaching a solution bc you want the relationship to work. Otherwise, why bring it up in the first place? I think it would be beneficial to sit down and be honest w/ yourself about what boundaries you need period, w/o the influence of other people, so that YOU feel safe, heard, loved, and taken care of. Bc if you let it get clouded by others/ make exceptions you’re disrespecting yourself. You have to make promises to yourself and keep them and figure out what you will and won’t accept and then stand your ground no matter who it is. Rebuilding your trust in yourself (which it sounds like might be part of the problem) is always a good first step. Also, (and this might sound funky, but hear it as it is) take yourself out of the victim role— “this happened to me. These people did this..” etc and instead shift it to “I experienced this and it causes this reaction from me when I’m in similar situations. This is how I want to be__ and this is what I’m doing to reach that point.” Y’know what I mean? You have to believe that you’ve got this (life) no matter what happens.

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Eliza

I was in a relationship for 17 yesterday. In our relationship we disagreed a lot about things. In this 17 years he left me 6 times and went to live with his son overseas. After a few months he’d return and we would continue as before. Almost 4 years ago…I said I couldn’t take the uncertainty any more and asked him to move out. I loved him very much and when he informed me he has found someone who he really cares about my live came to a standstill. I was lucky to have supportive (grown up) children and friends. After 3 years and a break up with her he returned and we started being together again. On his return he told me about all her…she is a big Christian… Very neat that looks After herself.
A good person in general but she critisiced his
son ‘s fam etc)
( she had her bust lifted and a tummy tuc etc some time ago) he said he didn’t know about it.
We know each other well…and I have sympathy with him due to financial losses and didn’t have a medical aid when he was with her. He gets SASSA (pension support) and worked in the tourist industry…as freelance. Covid restrictions in place …I know it must be nerve recking…but although I only have a pension…I
I HOPE WE CAN MANAGE. My problem is…most of the time he keeps himself busy on his phone..watching birds from the stoop etc.
But he could sit next to me…seeing me struggling to sit up…but won’t assist…while he was in general very polite before. And I believe with her. He just say sorry…don’t know if he means it….and he don’t want to discuss it because it will turn into conflict. He forget things I request and I had to make him attend that I need his affection…but he said he is trying….being polite and supportive is very important to me. I go out of my way to be supportive….including him and tell him about my life without him in the 3 years we were separated. If I ask about marriage…his response is….tomorrow if I want…but no responce
Am I missing something?? Why don’t I experience his affection like before? Why do I have to ask for it??
I’m just an average woman…have lots of mistakes…but want to be honest and transparent.

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Alesia

Lady, he is clearly using you. I am so sorry but after all of these years you have been making excuses for this behavior when I think you know you should have never let him come back the first time. You’re allowing him to use and disrespect you. He doesn’t show love, attention, or affection then you need to let him go and never open that door again.

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M

Hi. I’m in a relationship of about almost 4 months. My fiancé is an amazing human being. He has such a great heart. At the beginning he was crazy about me but then I messed it up by doing some dumb things so he stopped trying as hard. I was really mean at the beginning because of some past trauma but I changed because I realized I was hurting him. Ever since I’ve become nice and caring to him it’s like he doesn’t like it and pushes me away. I’ve been called toxic. I know I’m a bit much sometimes but I’m trying really hard to get this relationship to work. Tonight we had another argument and he just kept hanging up the phone call. He would say “are you gonna keep rambling on or should I just call you tomorrow in the morning”. That hurt a lot. I just want to be heard but it’s like it doesn’t matter if I show my feelings he will push me away.

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Barbara

My relationship problem is between me and my daughter. It started over 10 years ago when daughter number one who is married to a man that likes Star Wars. Daughter number two gave him a t-shirt with Star Wars on it. Daughter number one got very upset because she only got socks. She felt the Star Wars t-shirt was too personal. Then the next Christmas daughter number 2 bought husband of daughter number one another t-shirt. Daughter number one again got upset. Daughter number one calls me every so often and screams at me because she says I took sides. And that daughter number two has to apologize. Daughter number two who at the time was only 14 says she didn’t mean anything by it and their connection was just like sister and brothers. I believe that. Again yesterday daughter number one called me and yelled at me about it. I told her she had to talk to her sister and work it out. She also told me all the things that I hurt her with through the years growing up. I really am not sure what these things are. I tried to let her yell and vent so that she could get it out. But when I hang up I just cry cuz it hurts so much.

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Vicki

The reason I’m even reading these articles is because of a argument this weekend. Once again, when I have told him the way I feel, his answer is ” I can’t help the way you feel”.

In retrospect I guess that isn’t any worse than saying he’s sorry I feel a certain way and then ignores it. Anyway, I hope it eventually worked out for you even if it did meaning getting out when it was time to.

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Stacy B

I am going through the exact same thing with my boyfriend of six years but then again I caught my boyfriend internet dating since he met me and the first half of our relationship and I didn’t catch him til after my second daughter was born.

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Debbie

Hi Vicki

My Husband and I have been married for almost 3 years. I love him so much! I’m having issues I never had before and it’s both sad and scary.

Mike and I dated 2 1/2 years before we got Married we never had a argument during that time! Mine had a house and I had an apartment.

Mime had been divorced 2X prior and I was going through my 1st was just waiting for paperwork to be completed. I was married and had been with my Ex Husband for 27 1/2 years.
My marriage ended do to my ex cheating on me I stayed with him till the boys were both out of High school.

The thing that got me was not just the cheating but he yelled so much and blamed me for not loving him and said I didn’t like his job and didn’t care anymore.

I loved him like crazy did all I could too stay married. Thought we could work everything out but One day I came home with my Son and he moved all his stuff out while we were at an appointment. I was stunned list confused and deeply hurt!! I should have been happy but I wasn’t!!!

Mike is a wonderful Husband very caring and loving but scares the hell out of me!
Almost 3 months into our marriage he started with yelling at me for little things like forgetting a grocery list. His facial expression and yelling was very scary a lot like My ex Ray. all he talked about was what his ex wives did to him I told him I wasn’t them and that I was different and to please stop that I understood what he went through that he didn’t have to worry about me doing anything like that. He is so controlling too. wants everything his way, this is his house, tries to tell me what to do and how to do it and what I can and can not have but also wants full control of all my money. Its ours but he can’t control my
Disability and pension money from my ex. I take the money from the account it goes into and place it in the joint account on schedule.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I never thought I would feel the way that I do! I had 2 1/2 years between the two marriages thought that was enough time. I want this Marriage to work!!!!
My Husband needs some therapy and frankly I need some too. I don’t like arguing specially over what I think is little things. I find myself going quiet when he starts up and walking away to think things through before I say something. He gets mad if I talk soft he tells me I should talk louder then he gets mad at that. I find myself scared to talk to him in fear of him going off!
I noticed that when he talks about stuff I find myself cutting him off and answering to him quickly and he gets mad can’t blame him there!!

I like to put everyone first and think about myself last. Now I find myself thinking of me first sometimes now. I have days where I feel like I just want things back the way it was Me on my own just being with and there for my two Son’s and my Family and friends.
sincerely
a strong loving women who cares about her Family and Friends but is lost when it comes too
wanting to do fore herself.

Reply
Em

Hi friend!
Be kind to yourself.

It sounds like things are not good right now… but it’ll pass… take care of you and be patient. Each day is a new day. Let it be DAY ONE rather than ONE DAY….

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Sending you strength, patience and air hugs! to help you see you through this dark storm.

❤️❤️❤️❤️ Em

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Elle V.

I’m terribly sorry, but controlling what you do AND your money??! that IS abuse. please don’t waste any more time- y you deserve happiness and that’s not always found with a man. Especially not THAT kind. if he won’t get help (ie therapy. AND couples counseling), then you need to leave. the 3rd times a charm! (I’m only 34 and have never been married, but have had 2 long term relationships, but am now engaged. im hopeful, but still NEVER will put up with a man telling me what, or HOW, to live my life.

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Indicive

I just read this I have a very similar situation. I was married 23 years-mostly good. But we divorced. I did not want to. He— I feel l had a mid Life crisis wanted to join a band and date young girls get tattooed and go to concerts all the time out the blue and out of character. Before this he was an executive good plugged in dad, and good partner! Anyhow we divorced. 4 years later i remarried to a smart handsome physically fit abusive person. Same thing. He is always angry at me.I’m daily in trouble. I had the home and was financially sound until he came along He convinced me to buy a big House and land… I’m expected to cook clean shop, work and support his hobbies: weekly golf and becoming g a politician. When I ask him to move out he goes ballistic. I have suggested counseling as he has PTSD… he opposes meds. Which is his choice but the violent tirades have escalated to where it used to just be stuff mostly my expensive stuff getting broken to me…. I don’t know how I got here … I’m trying to get out

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Julia E

My boyfriend and I have been together for 8.5 years and we love eachother very deeply. But, communication has always been a struggle, and at times, it seems non existent. We both can be emotional and hot headed people. I hold onto grudges very tightly, which I am not proud of, and he can be “emotional deadweight,” meaning he gives up all effort to be productive or make things better during a conversation or argument. I take things very personally, and so does he.

He has said some mean things at times (never calling me out of my name, but definitely insulting me or uses “fighting words” and instigates) and rarely says sorry. Sometimes he “throws in” a sorry (not a convincing sorry and is usually followed with “I wouldn’t have said that if you didn’t do __blank__” type of attitude.) It is incredibly frustrating and really saddens me. Its depressing sometimes! I feel like he hardly ever holds himself accountable for things, but will jump on me for anything I may do. We absolutely love eachother and are truly best friends, but when I want to express how something bothered me or hurt my feelings, we are rarely on the same team. I feel like we very rarely get to talk something over and get through it without him blowing up or blaming me or justifying himself first.

If there is a constructive conversation that happens, it is always after his blow up, and I don’t want to be talked to in that way, so I stay away from him out of anger, sometimes for days we avoid eachother. Then eventually (usually at least) there is a conversation afterwords that is constructive and kind, then everything is great, then we repeat the cycle. I don’t feel like I should put up with him talking to me like that no matter how right he may be or how angry, but he isn’t making a real effort to stop. We will start counseling at the end of the month so I hope that helps. How should I handle this? I know giving the cold shoulder isn’t a good way to deal with it, but I don’t know what to do! How do I put my foot down and not allow him to “fight unfairly” with me and not resort to giving him the cold shoulder? If he is refusing to budge and not trying to help the situation, what is a healthy way for me to react?

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Rinny

i know this is late but i have the same situation with the man i live with. we arent married legally. we have a 4 month old. and he just throws the not.convincing sorrys and looks the other way whenever i’m pouring myself to him, telling him how i feel about this and that. he wouldnt even speak 10 words. its that sorry of his and wants things thrown under the rug all the time. so this week i just found myself giving him the cold shoulder. i only speak to him when he asks me something. i havent said more than 10 words. we sleep separately since our fight. i was the one who left the room and he hasmt asked me why or anything since then. i am thinking of leaving him because i’m a communicative person. i never knew he was less communicative until i moved in with him

i tried to tell.him to at least meet me half way since he says he isnt communicative as if its a “thing” but i guess he cant. he does most of the donts in here and i resent him for this. i hope it worked out for u with the councelling. i am slowlimg ditaching myself from him something i never knew i could do with a person. i do love him but i’ve been hurt in the past from my own Dad to the guy i was with before him and it did a number on me. i’m a sensitive person but very straight forward when going for what i want. i am avoiding him because i cant afford to get hurt to the extend that i was before.

my mom thinks leaving would be taking away his kid from him but i think its the only option i got at the moment. he’s 6 years older than me and you’d think he’d act his age but no. a part of me that is compassionate wants to just put everything under the rug and go back to normal for the sake of my baby but i know that would only fill the multiple unreasolved issues under that BIG ASS DIrty Rug!

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Stacy B

My situation is just like that but I have only been with him six years. I met him on a dating website and I fell in love but I could tell that he wasn’t exactly in love with me so I changed literally everything about myself down to my underwear. I tried spicing things up through pictures,messaged, and bedroom and I would still catching him looking at me like he hated me and rejecting my every efforts in making him happy or interested in me. I ask him over and over what I had to do to make him want me and he always said nothing. I am always pouring my heart out to him and every time the only response I get is love you. I ended up finding his meet me dating site account; at that time I had just had my second daughter with him and been together for 3 years. On his account he was saying he was single living alone and didn’t have kids. In his messages he was doing everything with women online that I was doing to try to spice stuff up but he refused to do any of that with me and even his Facebook profile he makes sure he seems single; it says relationship but nothing else of me and my kids

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Herself

I think you’re very brave and you do deserve better. Communication is what breeds intimacy and no relationship can survive without intimacy. You’ve just had a baby and your emotional needs are not being met by the person closest to you, I really feel for you. Lots of men are rubbish communicators but are still good men. Have you thought of writing to him and sharing your feelings? That way he can avoid the emotion which I guess makes him uncomfortable and maybe respond to your needs in a written form. I know it’s not the same as face to face but it could be a springboard to better communication.
Good luck, stay strong and remember you are a beautiful woman worthy of feeling loved xxx

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Jenny

I’m in a relationship with a man I truly love. He is a wonderful man with two children, divorced, as am I. We have had our growing pains and our own demons from our previous relationships throughout the last year and a half, but have managed to work through them. For a long time, I was fearful to commit fully. A couple of months back, I broke out of that fear and committed fully to him. We have both professed that we want a future together. Now that I’ve fully committed, I feel like he has changed. He is more selfish and will never apologize for hurting my feelings. He will say, “I’m sorry you feel that way” but follow it with saying he doesn’t feel he did anything wrong. I’ve spent many days and many hours fighting to be heard and seen by telling him how his lack of admission makes me feel. Saying he’s sorry I feel hurt but never admitting that what he did could possibly be hurtful is very upsetting and leaves me very insecure on where I stand in his life. He assures me that he loves me but will NEVER admit when he is wrong. I feel scared to approach him with my feelings now as a result. I don’t know how to be seen or heard anymore.

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Mahlen

Jenny. It’s been a year since you left that comment. But I suggest you maybe learn a little more about Narcissism. Your man may suffer from it and you (and everyone), in turn, will be the ultimate sufferers. Not trying to diagnose Just trying to offer a suggestion that may benefit you. Been there. Trying to rescue someone else who may need it.

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Katrina

I don’t think you are a narcissist. I would break it off with this guy if you are not happy. He should say sorry for the sake of the relationship.

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Indecisive

Your feeling we’re so well written. I feel like I understand you! Gosh I know what you mean about not being heard. It is so important for a relationship. It is critical for the individual. I’m worried if this doesn’t change. It’s something you won’t live with as your spirit will get crushed. I wish you the peace and the wisdom to choose the right path.

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Miss Linda

you must love your partner with you heart and do not love some one because is having money or car or house you must love him as he is

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H.m

I have been married for 16 years (together) for 20 to the only guy I ever dated. We have always had a fighting relationship. Both grew up in homes filled with fighting. At our 3 mos dating anniversary my husband, then boyfriend called me a “b” and then he has always called me names put downs, hates my family and constantly insults them behind their backs. He loves spending times with me, doesn’t like it if I make plans with friends and always try to make plans with me when I have plans with friends. His dad treats his mom awful behind closed doors. I know because she tells me. I see him like his dad and am beginning to hate him. Just about daily for over 15 years I have cried and know I married wrong. We have 2 kids and I don’t know what to do. I do love him but if u told me that I could go back to being 18 or 21, I would a do it in a heartbeat and choose better. What does that mean? We are different in many ways….I want friends and people in my life, I don’t want to yell or fight but now that’s is what I turned in to. I stay because we’ll I’m 37 and think I will make a mistake end up alone and un happy. Would if I cant ever meet anyone better? We do have good times , have a nice home, actually building a bigger one with all the bells and whistles. But I always imagine myself young, and meeting the right man the 1st time around. This sucks.

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Maye

Married well over twenty years now. Have believed in fair fighting rules for a long time. Husband, not so much. He’ll look at them, but not implement them. We’re finally looking at them together again, which, from what I hear, is a positive thing in itself. He even stopped dumping major anger on me at one point when things got so tense that I said and did some things which led him to decide to go to an anger management class. Turns out ‘anger management’ for him was just stuffing. I didn’t realize that for years. Kids all grown up now, and they are all a mess. Now that they are not in the house, husband dumps his anger harder again (no witnesses? – just giving up on finding healthy? – other?). Today? Trying to bring anything up is bringing up all of the old broken rules (rather than just stuffed anger). Looking back, I never succeeded in demonstrating a healthy relationship for the kids. Can’t do it alone. Want to now even though they are moved out. — Read some books through the years. Some really helpful. Emotionally Destructive Marriages (EDM) was one of them. Explained a lot, but gained no traction. Go to counselors and they respond like EDM’s author says they usually will. They don’t realize how much destructive behavior is behind my ‘story telling’. Can’t seem to get a grip on next steps of growth. Figure my children would benefit *most* by seeing their parents learn what healthy is – that their father might understand his part in all of this mess they are in – which means I would too (I have said I’m sorry for any mistakes I know I made, explained misconceptions they had when they blamed me for things they thought I had done, and told them I was sorry I’d ever given them room to believe those things about me, pointed out the trauma of the mess we were in, that the trauma was not their fault, said I was sorry any time it all came up again, am open to other discussions, etc.). Figure husband and I could at least try to help our kids address their mess best if we could learn ‘healthy’ together. Wondering if, instead, I should be drawing boundaries that could ultimately drive my husband away. Can’t seem to get traction on what that would look like even if I should do that, not that I’d mind if he respected my boundaries instead – that’d be good. I mean, I do express my boundaries. He agrees to them verbally. They aren’t honored though. Passive/Aggressive ya know, in silence, unless I try to talk about the problems. Then it is broken fair fighting rules all over again. When we read the fair fighting rules, he doesn’t even seem to remember breaking them. It’s crazy. If he can’t admit to remembering hurting someone, how does he ever develop healthy with them? I guess we could try pulling out the rules when he dumps on me again, now that he’s doing that again cuz the kids are gone. If he just broke the rules – just before reviewing them again, will he remember long enough to admit it? Who knows? What do I do if he won’t admit that he broke them again? I can’t go back to wondering whether or not to walk on egg shells. Or wondering when the next useless conflict will add more trauma through new drama. Today’s traumas/dramas just add so much more trauma now that it is added to our struggling children’s flailing lives. – Printing out rules today. Wondering if it can be of any help anyway.

Reply
Stephanie

My fiance and I are going through a very rough patch. We’ve been together for almost 6 years and I believe I have found the man I want to spend my life with, I can’t imagine life without him, we both have a child from previous relationships and my child loves him dearly, calls him dad. About 6-8 months ago I noticed he started acting a little different, purposely picking fights so he could leave the house, using excuses to see friends and not include me etc. Anyway, I found out he “befriended” some girl on FB and I when I asked about it he said he didn’t know her, but of course he did, they work in the same building, then later I found her photo on his computer, said he didn’t know how it got there. So I said this stops now, stop following her on fb etc. But low and behold they began chatting through messenger and he’d go past her work area all the time to talk. Later on he went to a baseball game with friends so when he was out I used his computer to do homework (honest) I was looking at photos and for some reason there where screenshots of him and some other girl that the other girl works with and an accompanying text to the other girl telling her that she can send the photo to her and if she wants his number she can give it to her (at this stage she had left the job). So at this point I’m fumming so I dug deeper and seen a bunch of photos of her that he had emailed to himself and then emails showing he had chaneed passwords on some of his accounts to his and her name together, also a hotel room receipt (said he never went through with it). Oh did I mention that this woman is married. He says nothing physical ever happened but I’m positive after everything that they still talk, he denies it. She is crazy, she drove to my home and called me psycho and told him to leave me for good. I saw him driving the other day so i called him on the phone to say hey i just seen you but he accused me of following him and thinks im crazy and its not love i show him but pyscho behavior. Now hes not talking to me and has been sleeping in the guest room for the past few nights. He said I need to stop checking on him and following him around the house etc. I still love him very much and I’m very hurt but I don’t know what to do. He said I need to change my behavior of asking about his phone because he’s at the tail end of this.

Reply
DMH

Hi Stephanie. It sounds like your fiance is disrespecting you on many levels. Based on what you wrote, it sounds like there are trust issues and communication issues. Honestly, he needs to know that if he wants to be with other women in that capacity, that your relationship will end. With him making accusations about being psycho etc. he is gas lighting you. Classic characteristic of the person in the wrong–projecting it/turning it around on the other person. As far as you needing to change your behavior about asking for his phone, well, he needs to understand that if he had not created a trust issue, there would be no need for your “behavior.” Also, it sounds like this other woman is going a problem at least for as long as you and your fiance share a residence. She is imposing herself onto your life, territory, and family. I would highly suggest getting a restraining order given the fact that she has physically showed up to your home. If you’re thinking to yourself “that’s too much…I don’t want to be THAT hard on him…” then I am apt to say that he has you in the exact position he wants you, which is for you to feel as though your actions are inherently wrong and that YOU need to not upset HIM. I hope this response has been some food for thought. Wishing you the best.

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Charmaine

I thank God for leading me to search out, how to fight fairly in a love relationship, because in my doing so, it led me to your article which identifies exactly the ways and wrong approaches that i am guilty of. I need help in fighting fairly and your advice and pointers are definitely what i needed. I had no one in my childhood nor adolescence to teach me, but at age 48, I am eager and ready to learn. Once again, my sincere thanks!

Reply
Daisy

My husband will get upset, supposedly over a particular incident, and then will attack my personality/”who I am”. The argument never starts and ends with the issue at hand; it always becomes about who I am. For instance, I said something the other day that I figured he wasn’t going to take well and I chose to do it at a bad time. I agree that I should have waited for a more appropriate time. However, instead of saying, “I wish you would have brought this up at another time because…”, he starts yelling and belittling me and tells me that I’m the most selfish person he knows. It went on and on and a lot more hurtful things were said. This happens all the time. Why can’t we just discuss the issue? Why shred me to pieces? I’m building a wall (again) and it worries me. We’ve been together a very long time and this kind of behavior has caused us to split up in the past, but there is no talking to him. He refuses to talk to anyone (counselor) either. I’m sad to see us heading down the same road, but I have no idea how to get through to him because he just says he gets “mean”, but if I just wouldn’t do (fill in the blank) he wouldn’t have to. This is so hard.

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Sabrina

Daisey, you’re not going to fix him! He needs to want to be fixed! It’s his realization not yours. The above statements are somewhat helpful, take what will help you and leave the rest. “Because someone withdraws because he/she feels attacked” is not your fault or problem. They have zero communication skills and don’t care enough to get them. They just want you to take the fall for it.

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Katrina

Try talking to him about the whole situation at the right time. I wouldn’t take it personally if it was at a bad time. I don’t think he wants you to take the fall for anything it was probably just a bad time.

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Smiley

Hi Daisy,
I am sorry that you are experiencing this. It seems like your husband feels justified in his actions and therefore sees no reason to change his behavior or communication patterns. From what you’ve explained, it appears that you’ve been together long enough to know that his behavior in conflict isn’t going to change and it is not something that you are able to fix regardless of how much you may wish it. So, try again, if possible, to discuss the benefits to your relationship if you are both able to improve your conflict patterns. If he still refuses, you must decide whether or not you are willing to continue living with that behavior. Also, it is very important that you know that only abusive and manipulative individuals continually choose to tear others down and blame the person for their actions. At the very least, your husband should be willing to take full responsibility for his choices and actions and not blame you. Good luck?

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Cara

My boyfriend and i are at the end of our rope. He holds everything in then blows up and says some very nasty things. I feel i keep my cool very well, however do sometimes have sarcastic remarks and answers. I have honestly tried to sit down and ask what is bugging him and what i can do different. I then tell him whats bugging me and he rarley apologizes and tries to turn it back around on me ” well im sorry but i did it because you did this” im beyond frustrated, and i do love him but i dont know what i can do better anymorw

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Betsy

This article was very enlightening. I feel as I needed some additional “resources” to understand my feelings. I currently engaged and was divorced about 5 yrs ago. I was in a severe toxic relationship. How we fought was a huge factor as divorce was the result! My fiancé and I have gone through so many rounds of my insecurity and trust issues due to my past and also fighting in a way where I never truly could “fight fair”. Now, we are finally at a place where I understand. From time to time, I have learned to push (thanks to my therapist) out a lot of trauma from my past. Certain things still do trigger it and I find myself in a spot of fear and defensiveness comes out. Reading this article helped remind me of how fighting fair is the key. Today, I got upset because I was told that my arguments were becoming the norm every 5 days and that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore because it was such a dead topic. He even got on his phone and I felt ignored. Although, those reactions were not right at the time, I do understand that he is truly to push me away from old habits of blame. For a moment, I let me previous trauma trigger words take over me and I wasn’t fighting fair or was fighting for us. I was fighting more about an insecurity. The argument came from how I felt about me not secure of me than what he is really doing. I blamed it on hidden agendas when I didn’t look at the bigger picture and made it appear to a trust issue that I had going into a new relationship.

Anyway, I’m sorry. This article was therapeutic to me as it put in writing what shouldn’t be taken for granted. How we learn to keep our love burning and how we argue is real. Anger is a secondary emotion and digging deeper can be challenging, but so worth it. I thank you for this.

Reply
Toni

I loved the article. I tried to get my husband to read it, as well, but he refused. Said that he would yell if I wasn’t listening (which means agreeimg with him), and that if I would just not say or do things that piss him off, he wouldn’t yell at all. I tried to implement all the “rules”, but they are pointless unless both people are folloowing them. What do i do now?

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

If your husband isn’t open to talking about your relationship, or prepared to meet you somewhere in the middle, it’s going to be difficult to find a new way of relating. Keep taking care of you, and let him know that you would really like to talk about how to make the relationship better for him and for you when he is ready. If there is something you’re doing to upset him, he needs to tell you what that is – and not by yelling in the moment. Approach it from an angle that you want things to be better for both of you, and you want to understand more about what he needs to feel happy. If he isn’t willing to have the conversation, it’s for you to decide whether you can live with his behaviour and the relationship the way it is, or whether you can’t.

Reply
Paula

I tell my partner I can not read your mind. Please explain what you mean . Communication is key. Never assu me anything.
Telling me you love does not solve the issue .
Take ownership and be responsible of the issu. It takes two to fight so meet me half way .
I just ended it with my boyfriend . Me wa a true mom s boy. I could not stand the manipulation. Plus he ignored me and it felt like he was punishing me . Screw that . I feel good. I Sit silent with the feeling until it leaves my body. No one can really hurt you unless you arw insecure about something . It’s all a learning experience. I learned I am strong and deserve to find aan who appreciates me.
Do you have article on mom’s boy. It’s a strange relationship?

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There are lots of reasons we love people or places, and a big reason is that we love who we are when we’re with those people or in those places. It’s the same for our children.

Do they feel seen, important, fun, funny, joyful? Or do they feel annoying, intrusive, unimportant, stupid? Do they feel like someone who is valued and wanted? Or do they feel tolerated? Do they feel interesting, independent, capable? Or do they feel managed?

It’s so easy to fall into a space - and this can happen with the most loving, most wonderful parents - where we spend too much time telling them what to do, noticing the things they don’t do, ‘managing’ them, and not enough time playing or experiencing joy with them, valuing their contribution (even if we’ve had to stoke that a little), seeking out their opinions and ideas. 

We won’t get this right all the time, and that’s okay. This isn’t about perfection. It’s about what we do most and being deliberate when we can. It’s about seeing who they are, through what they do. It’s about taking time to enjoy them, laugh with them, play with them, so they can feel their capacity to bring joy. It’s about creating the conditions that make it easy for them to love the people they are when they are with us.♥️
This week I had the absolute joy of working with the staff of Launceston College, presenting two half-day workshops on neuroscience and brain development for children and adolescents. 

The teachers and staff at this school care so much about their students. The everyday moments young people have with their important adults matter so much. It’s through these moment to moment interactions that young people start to learn that they are important, believed in, wanted, that they belong, and when this happens, learning will too. It just will. 

This is what teachers do. They open young people up to their potential, to their capacity for learning and doing hard things. They grow humans. The work of a teacher will always go so far beyond content and curriculum. 

Thank you @launceston_college for having me. Your students are in strong and wonderful hands.♥️

Posted @withrepost • @launceston_college
#LC2022 #
Building brave and moving through anxiety are like lifting weights. The growth happens little by little. Sometimes this will be slow and clumsy. Sometimes it will feel big bold, certain, and beautiful. Sometimes undone, unhappened, frustrating. It all matters. 

There will be so many days where they will see the brave thing in front of them, and everything in them will want to move towards it but they’ll feel stuck - between wanting to and scared to.

This is the point of impasse. The desire and the resistance come face to face, locked in battle. On the outside this might look like frustration, big tears, big anger, the need to avoid or retreat (or in us, a need to retreat them), but inside the work to strengthen against anxiety is happening.

This isn’t the undoing of brave. It’s the building of it. In this precious space between the wanting and the fear, they’re doing battle. They’re doing the hard, imposing work of moving through anxiety. They’re experiencing the distress of anxiety, and the handling of it, all at once. They might not be handling it well, but as long as they’re in it, they’re handling it.

These moments matter so much. If this is all they do, then they’ve been brave today. They’ve had a necessary, important experience which has shown them that the discomfort of anxiety won’t hurt them. It will feel awful, but as long as they aren’t alone in it, it won’t break them. 

Next day, next week, next month they might handle that discomfort for a minute longer than last time. Next time, even longer. This isn’t the avoidance of brave. It’s the building of it. These are the weight lifting experiences that slowly and surely strengthen their resiliency muscles. These are the experiences that show them that the discomfort of anxiety is no reflection at all of how capable they are and how brave they can be. It’s discomfort. It’s not breakage.

These little steps are the necessary building blocks for the big ones. So, if they have handled the discomfort of anxiety today (it truly doesn’t matter how well), and if that discomfort happened as they were face to face with something important and meaningful and hard, let them know that they’ve built brave today.♥️
Anxiety is a valid, important, necessary way the brain recruits support in times of trouble. In actual times of danger, the support we give is vital. This might look like supporting avoidance, fighting for them, fleeing with them. BUT - when there is no danger, this ‘support’ can hold them back from brave, important, growthful things. It can get in the way of building resilience, self-belief, and the capacity for brave. All loving parents will do this sometimes. This isn’t the cause of anxiety. It’s the response to it. 

We love them so much, and as loving parents we all will, at some time or another,  find ourselves moving to protect them from dangers that aren’t there. These ‘dangers’ are the scary but safe things that trigger anxiety and the call for support, but which are safe. Often they are also growthful, brave, important. These include anything that’s safe but hard, unfamiliar, growthful, brave.

This is when the move towards brave might be in our hands. This might look like holding them lovingly in the discomfort of anxiety for a minute longer than last time, rather than supporting avoidance. It might look like trusting their capacity to cope with the discomfort of anxiety (and approaching hard, brave, growthful things) rather than protecting them from that discomfort. Knowing what to do when can be confusing and feel impossibly hard sometimes. When it does, ask:

‘Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?’
‘Am I aligning with their fear or their courage?’
‘What am I protecting them from - a real danger, or something brave and important?’

They don’t have to do the whole brave thing all at once. We can move them towards brave behaviour in tiny steps - by holding them in the discomfort of anxiety for a teeny bit longer each time. This will provide the the experience they need to recognise that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety.

This might bring big feelings or big behaviour, but you don’t need to fix their big feelings. They aren’t broken. Big feelings don’t hurt children. It’s being alone in big feelings that hurts. Let them feel you with them with statements of validation and confidence, ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle this.’♥️
We all do or say things we shouldn’t sometimes. This isn’t about breakage, it’s about being human. It’s about a brain that has registered ‘threat’, and a body that is getting ready to respond. 

‘Threat’ counts as anything that comes with any risk at all (real or perceived) of missing out on something important, separation from friends or you or their other important people, judgement, humiliation, failure, disappointment or disappointing their important people, unfairness or loss. It can also count as physical (sensory overload or underload, pain, exhaustion, hunger), or relational (not feeling seen or heard, not feeling valued, feeling replaced, not feeling welcome, feeling disconnected from you or someone important).

Young ones have the added force of nervous systems that haven’t got their full adult legs yet. When brains have a felt sense of threat, they will organise bodies for fight (this can look like tantrums, aggression, irritation, frustration), flight (can look like avoidance, ignoring, turning away) or freeze (can look like withdrawal, hiding, defiance, indifference, aloofness).

The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a brain that needs to be brought back to a felt sense of safety. We can do this most powerfully through relationship and connection. Breathe, be with, validate (with or without words - if the words are annoying for them just feel what they feel so they can feel you with them). 

When their brains and bodies are back to calm, then the transformational chats can happen: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can I do to help next time?’ ‘What can you do?’ ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. How can you put this right? Do you need my help with that?’

Of course, sometimes our boundaries will create a collision that also sets nervous systems on fire. You don’t need to fix their big feelings. They aren’t broken. Stand behind the boundary, flag the behaviour (‘It’s not ok to … I know you know that’) and then shift the focus to relationship - (‘I’m right here’ or, ‘Okay I can hear you want space. I’m going to stay right over here until you feel better. I’m here when you’re ready.’)♥️

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