In order to have a healthy relationship that is fulfilling, intimate and long-lasting, we need to be able to deal with the hard times and struggles/conflict. This requires emotional intelligence, which is based on self-awareness and empathy. Avoiding, denying, saying everything is “all happy and good” – will never ever withstand time. It takes two to tango – and both partners need to be emotionally mature.
As much as we want to avoid conflicts and disagreements, the reality is that we will always face these in committed relationships. But that doesn’t mean we should scream and throw tantrums like little children, or erase the entire relationship and walk away. My intention in writing this article is to shed a light on the dynamics of why couples fight, how to “fight better” and learn how to resolve ourselves into peace.
As a preface though it is important to understand that we cannot build a long-lasting relationship with an emotionally immature partner. Emotional maturity is the ability to process and handle emotions; anger, sadness, disappointment, grief, resentment, fear, insecurity, failure and so on. Relationships are hard work – and for emotionally immature people, they will never last long. Things are not always great. And when the hard times come to the surface, we need to have ability to sit down and have an intentional dialogue, take responsibility, have compassion and resolve the real issue – instead of walking away, looking away, avoiding, denying, lashing out, playing victim, manipulating, controlling and so on. It is uncomfortable – absolutely. But this is what a mature healthy intimate relationship requires.
As problems arise in our relationship, we need to be able to sit down and talk about uncomfortable matters and deal with emotions, and as such – we need to be able to possess great self-awareness and emotional maturity.
Emotionally immature people can be extremely difficult to deal with. They blame others for their emotions, sadness, anger, problems – but don’t look inward into how they’ve contributed to their own life and never take responsibility. They are egoistic thinking the world revolves around them and expect others to fit into their expectations, views and validate them all the time. They are controlling. They are emotionally dependent and process their emotions like a child. They seek to find reasons to justify their feelings and manipulate others. When they do not get “their way” they act out – either by controlling tactics or lashing out. They lack self-awareness and are blind to how they affect others. They are entitled, controlling and emotionally unavailable; incapable of building intimacy and a committed relationship. And if you think that you can change an emotionally immature partner, let me save you a few years and tell you: No, you can’t and it is not your job to “fix” anyone anyway.
Relationships are uncomfortable. The more intimate, closer and emotionally and sexually we become to someone – the more seen and vulnerable we feel. And our partner starts reflecting our shadows – this is what relationships are anyway. We need to be willing to see ourselves; to be self-aware, conscious and emotionally mature. We can’t not talk about stuff, we can’t avoid stuff, we can’t not look at uncomfortable things – we need to have intentional conversations, with deep listening and understanding, with intimate communication with our partner – we need to dig deep down into the deeper issues and fears and old programming – and resolve our relationships.
When I sat down today to write on this topic, the first thing that came into my mind was Axl Rose (because I am a total Guns N’ Roses fan), whispering gently into my ear, “Darling, let’s take it slow, all we need is just a little patience.”
Now, the question isn’t as much the fighting, as it is the repairing. Relationships usually follow cycles of harmony, disharmony, and repair.
Why do couples fight?
Usually we fight over the same stuff like towels, trash, dishes or being late. It’s “little stuff” wearing the masks of “bigger” stuff. And there are usually three underlying reasons for that: desire for power/control, closeness/need for affection, and respect/recognition.
Some people are just used to fighting because this is how they were brought up from their early childhood. Their parents fought all the time or they fought with the children when the children did “something wrong.” So, they never learned to actually express their needs in a healthy emotionally mature way; to ask for what they need and want in a safe environment or how to show genuine affection towards other people. You see sometimes people think that by fighting they are showing that they care – because this is how they were taught or observed this behaviour. So they use criticism or judgment to show affection because they don’t know how else to show affection. We sometimes forget that our definition of “love” is how we felt in our home as children. If a caregiver was ignorant of our emotional needs or didn’t cuddle us enough, we’d assume that this is what love means – and even when we grow up and say “I want an affectionate partner” we’d somehow get stuck in relationships with people who aren’t affectionate. This is because subconsciously this is our definition of love; of comfort and of familiarity. And if someone is actually affectionate, we wouldn’t be recognizing this and we’d subconsciously push it away. This is what people call “self-sabotage.” So obviously if one partner shows affection but the other expresses it through criticism, judging or “accusing”, things will inevitably not work out.
When we are in a relationship with someone, the more involved and intimate we become, we more vulnerable we feel because we expose all of our parts. And this begins to also cause resistance. Old habits run deep and so does our self-sabotage because of our childhood wounds. Perhaps as a child you longed for affection or appreciation but didn’t get it. Perhaps as a result you came to believe that your needs, desires and longings are not important and don’t deserve to be fulfilled. Such beliefs form our identities and are deeply (and painfully) ingrained within us; to the extend that when we do get what we’ve desired and longed for – we doubt it and resist it because “our reality” is not used to that; because this is unknown; because it doesn’t fit our subconscious pattern; because it doesn’t comply with our old beliefs stuck in our mind/past experiences. Look, there is no shame in that – we all have our stuff. This is not about blaming caregivers neither because they too had their stuff, and are humble human beings carrying their own pains. This is just about ourselves – to shed some understanding on what things have shaped us, realizing that it is not who we are but just an identity we took on (like a job title) and to understand how our mind perceives everything else around us so that we make more aware decisions/choices in our lives.
Resolving a relationship into peace is about self-awareness.
Most importantly, we have to remember that we are not fighting each other but we are fighting together, against the problem. This is something we often forget. There’s me, there’s you, and then there’s the third entity called “us”. And when it’s “us” we are together in this and our priority is to resolve the problem rather than destroy one another as if we are on opposite islands playing battle ships.
Words hurt. They carry a lot of power and it is something we have to remember every day when we choose what words we want to use. It’s a responsibility. And it’s our decision for which we are accountable for.
We have to remember to be respectful and keep the privacy of a relationship. Do not ever take the vulnerability of the fight and discuss it with others – this is between you and your partner. Otherwise, it causes distrust and disrespect. And that’s a tough cookie to come back from. Keep it private between the two of you.
Empathy and self-awareness are absolutely important to recognize our own contribution in the situation. Obviously that doesn’t mean that if someone is abusive, just because you understand them and empathize you should continue to accept that behaviour. No. Remember that it is not your responsibility to “fix” someone. As an empath, I can deeply empathize with everyone and how their wounds contributed to their cruelty – but the minute someone disrespects me or harms me in any way – they are out of my life. Know your boundaries and value system and stay true to it.
The 10 Seconds Rule, Mechanics of Fights + How to “Fight Better”
In conflict situations, we only have the ability to listen for the first 10 seconds, and then we tune out preparing for battle. This is a very short time frame for how long we can “logically” stay in a situation of rising tension. It’s just human nature. We need to remember this, so that we understand our instincts and the importance of slowing it down, so that we somehow continue to pay attention. That would usually mean: we need to take a time out.
“Bad” fights are those which escalate negatively, screaming and calling each other bad names, shaming, blaming, disrespecting and accusing. “Attack – blame – defend” is the classic behavioural pattern of fights with negative escalation.
So how do we turn this into a “better” fight; in which we can actually hear and understand one another?
This shouldn’t be surpising: it’s empathy, awareness, listening and understanding. Usually, behind anger there is hurt, behind criticism there is something we want, etcetera.
First, we need to realize that this other person has a completely different experience of what just happened. We all have our own truths, perspectives and perceptions shaped due to our experiences and spiritual development. Remember that once the conflict happens we only have 10 seconds of “logic”. We would often think that “if I feel this, it must be because you have done this”. For example, if I feel neglected, how could you possibly think you were being attentive or warm? This is where empathy comes in and the understanding that we all express ourselves differently. It is not about right or wrong, but it is about understand one another’s needs and treating our partner how they need to be treated. Or at the very least, trying to – otherwise, what’s the point? Relationships demand interdependence and compromise; and a lot of effort and self-work, which means that it is our job to be more aware partners and work on our own issues. There is nothing “selfish” about needing our needs to be met. It takes two to tango, of course, and both need to put in their efforts. If one partner is aware and always meeting the other’s needs, and the other doesn’t give or compromise in return – this will never work out.
Secondly, we need to learn to express how we “feel” versus saying what they “did”. Learning to express actual feelings means understanding our own feelings – which means, understanding the difference between feelings and emotions. The emotion is anger, but the feeling may be feeling sad. And is it because our need for affection isn’t met? Is it because they treated us in a negative way? Why do we feel what we feel? That’s our job to know.
Remember the 10 seconds – because we need to keep the conversation going rather than escalating into the attack-blame-defend pattern; which is basically us going down the rabbithole. We have to somehow continue to listen in an engaging open way, so that we resolve it. We need to feel heard, seen, validated and acknowledged.
We can still disagree even when we validate the other person’s feelings and find a way for both of us to feel better, rather than attacking one another. Remember that it is not who is right or who is wrong – it is about the “problem” and we are trying to find a solution for it, together.
So we can say something like, “I don’t think I’ve done this, this wasn’t my intention but I can see and understand why you would experience this. What I meant was […] and this […] is how I feel for you.”
This will fundamentally shift the disagreement into just understanding the other person better and make them feel cared for again – because we’ve expressed our intention, acknowledged their experience/feelings and restated how we feel about them. At the end of the day, we all just want to feel loved, appreciated and supported.
So, how do we end a fight?
Here is where Axl Rose comes in, whispering into my ear, “Darling, let’s take it slow, and it’ll work itself just fine, all we need is just a little patience, but know that I love you and I need you.”
I can sit here and preach all about the mechanics and what we should and shouldn’t do – but like I already said: 10 seconds. So sometimes the best thing to do, if you feel yourself starting to escalate, is to say, “I need to cool off a little bit because at this moment I don’t feel like I am doing justice to this conversation.” That would be quite the long high-minded, extremely emotionally mature and logical statement to say, so just try to remember a shorter version of it. The point is: we don’t want to say things we’ll regret – and we will regret saying things during states of escalation. Words hurt and are hard to forget. At least for me they are. And not everything can be repaired. But when we say a version of this statement, we are showing to our partner that this is important to us and we want to allow it the justice and attention it deserves, because they matter to us; because we love them. And in return: when our partner says this to us, we need to allow them this cooling space. Don’t follow them around and pressuring them. The person has the right to leave, they’ve asked for this needed space and it is in our both’s best self-interests to do this. We have to respect our choices. They will come back when they are ready. And of course – this also means, they must get back to us. If they don’t choose to come back – then that’s another story. Because there is trust and accountability and respect – that we wear when we ask to cool off. And trust is a bridge built over the years.
Do not allow things to fester. It is often misunderstandings anyway – but sometimes the “temporary becomes permanent”. While it is good to step aside and calm down, don’t detach completely because your partner will start to feel isolated.
After the cooling, comes the apology. If we apologize, it must be sincere – and must be done with a clear intention that it won’t be repeated. Apologies and excuses have expiring dates also. And when we apologize over and over again for the same thing, it loses its meaning and words lose their weight. Accountability is crucial, which is one of the aspects of self-esteem, as we realize and accept our own flaws but we are still forgiving towards self and others; we hold ourselves kindly with high regard. Because when we hold onto guilt, and can’t forgive ourselves, then we start to subconsciously project this onto others, masked as criticising, judging, and blaming.
When it comes to the complexity of human interactions, there are no easy fixes, directions and how-to-steps. Some people should be more generous, others should learn to set boundaries; some should be more considerate of those around them, while others should be more considerate of their own needs. We are all different and have our own languages, and as such, as also learn the language to our relationship. It’s trial and error; we’ll make mistakes, we’ll forgive, and so on, until we carve the right way, which is “right” because we feel comfortable and have our needs met. We find what works for us, and this is unique only to us. How do we do that?
By paying attention. By putting down the phones, switching off the TV, and looking into each other’s eyes, unassuming that we already know everything about the other person. We need to have the humility to challenge our own ways and ideas, when new insights emerge, and accept that we change, and to re-discover, and re-learn, and re-adjust. Often times in relationships we give what we want to receive, rather than what our partner needs. Paying attention means: holding, kissing and caring for our partner not in the way we always have, but in the way they need to, right now.
Let’s end on a love note, because this is The Art of Love.
We need to show that we care for our partner even when we are fighting.
If there is one thing I want us all to remember, it is this: we are not fighting against each other, we are fighting together for a solution. We need to keep things in perspective.
The truth is: love is not enough to get us through the “thick and thin”. Every day we make a choice to be together or not. It’s a decision to hold onto and have the capacity within our own selves, to hold space for another person; as we both go through all of our changes, shapes, forms and phases, holding on holding strong. And it’s not just about compromises – it is often sacrifices, also. More than anything though – it is about trust, privacy, kindness and respect. Keep it private between you; protect your love and your bond. Remember that we are holding another person’s heart and hearts are fragile.
We will always have disagreements, no matter how much we love and adore each other. And when one partner is more reactive, then may the other have the strength to take a step back, so that we don’t hurt one another. But at the end, ask yourselves: Is this fight really worth it? Some will be, others will not be. Is this fight really worth it continuing? After all that we feel for each other, after all that we’ve been through, I do hear you and I do understand you and we will fix this. And this is a promise we make to each other. This is why we are committed to each other; why we chose to walk through this life together, sharing ourselves fully and vulnerably; holding on holding strong, especially when things get rough; we can build a door amidst the brick wall and we’ll build it together. We don’t have to hurt one another, just to show our strength, identity, independence or “value”. And we need to remind one another, every single day: you are very much loved and very much needed in my life.
In love + trust,
Cover Art “The Lovers” by Pablo Picasso
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