How to Fight Like an Adult

I just got back to NYC after an amazing 2 week vacation with my boyfriend and the best part of our trip wasn’t swimming with sea turtles, sunsets, or sex. It was fighting with him. Nothing tells me more about a relationship than how we handle conflict. And you can be sure that 2 weeks with me is bound to create conflict, whether it be my incessant need to both drive and navigate or my hanger when I’m not promptly fed. In the past, I wavered between needing to be right about everything or shoving my feelings down and agreeing with people like a passive-aggressive martyr. It was enough to give you whiplash. But after enough failed attempts, I’ve finally learned how to respect my boundaries and handle conflict in a loving way. So how did we use conflict to bring us closer and not break us? 

We followed these 5 simple rules:

1. Keep the goal in mind. I often ask myself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” This isn’t to quell my insatiable thirst to win, it simply reminds me that the goal of conflict is not to win, it’s to find a resolution. 

2. Avoid grandiose statements.  I’ve been known to lack an edit function when I speak. And on most occasions, that’s still true. Except when there’s a conflict. If I’m consciously using Tip #1, I have the ability to reflect on how I’d feel if I heard the crap coming out of my mouth. Statements like “You always...” or “You never...” immediately tell the person that shit is about to hit the fan. One instance of doing something that you don’t like doesn’t define your partner or his behavior throughout the relationship. Sure, it’s easy to lump things into patterns. And in an effort to keep ourselves safe, it’s our immediate instinct. But, you’re more likely to find a resolution if you treat the event as an isolated incident.

3. Replace your conjunctions. Similar to #2, sometimes the little words make all the difference. Replacing “but” with “and” shifts the conflict from a struggle to a solution, “I know you think we should go on a hike, and I’m hungry, so what can we do about that?” That’s very different than “I know you want to go on a hike, but I’m hungry. Feed me now!!!”

4. Confirm your understanding. Most conflicts are heightened because we don’t hear what the other person is saying. Left to my own devices, I am either planning my retort or unconsciously assigning meaning to things. A simple, “Can you help me to understand why you feel that way?” or “what I’m hearing you say is that…” not only brings me to the present situation, but gives the other person an opportunity to clarify his meaning. 

5. Say what you want instead of what you don’t want. There’s a difference between a complaint and a constructive comment. Instead of “I can’t stand when you leave the toilet seat up,” it’s more effective to say “I’d really like it if you’d put the toilet seat down after you use it.” A positive approach puts people at ease rather than signaling them to prepare for battle. 

And there you have it. 15 years of unnecessary conflict consolidated into 5 tips. Use them and watch your relationships with friends, family, and coworkers transform!