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.



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.

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?


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!


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.


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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?


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


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?

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.


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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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