I talk a lot on this blog about the difference between conflict and fighting, and I think that it’s high time I talked about the difference between the two. I’ve mentioned that conflict is unavoidable in the past, but what is it that separates healthy conflict from dirty fighting?
Conflict is what happens when two people disagree. Think about your favorite game, movie, or book: most of the narrative is built around a central conflict. Sometimes it’s idealogical, sometimes it’s personal; but conflict is the framework in which fighting occurs. It is not, however, the fight itself. Conflict is not in-and-of-itself a problem, in fact it’s unavoidable. If I like the thermostat to be set at 65, and you like it to be set at 75, we have a conflict. It does not need to be destructive, and many times they can be navigated easily so long as both parties are willing to listen to one another. I say navigated because not all conflicts can be resolved. Resolution is not always the goal, but all conflict can build up a relationship if it’s done constructively. Here are some tips on how to make sure that you have healthy conflict.
Fighting is a Choice
Fighting is what happens when the people in conflict become more focused on “winning” than navigating the issue at hand. When a conflict becomes a fight, it’s likely that it grows out from one of those Four Horsemen I talk about so much. Fights do not necessarily have to be destructive either; it’s just two people “caring loudly” at each other. This can work for some couples, because yelling can be a sign of passion. Ultimately, whether you need to change the way you approach fights comes down to how you feel afterward: if you can both yell and scream without resorting to criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or stonewalling; and you can walk away feeling closer together, then go for it! If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for you.
Conflicting Without Fighting Dirty
Contrary to what pop culture will tell you, it is possible to manage conflict without fighting. Here is a simple guide to the basics rules for healthy conflict.
Even if the point of conflict is something intense, it is vital to start the conversation softly. Conversations tend to end how they start, so a harsh start is likely to result in a harsh end. I don’t necessarily mean “soft” as in “quiet” or “meek”; soft just means that you are talking about the thing you disagree about rather than starting on the offensive.
Focus on One Issue
As the conversation progresses, it may be tempting to bring other issues in; but by focusing on having a free and open discussion about the issue at hand, escalation can be avoided. If you find yourself drifting toward being upset about something that is not what you are currently talking about, take note to come back to it later.
Respect Each Other
This one should go without saying. If you care about each other, your fights need to reflect that or else resentment and contempt may start to build. Remember that both of your perspectives are valid, whether you agree or not. A powerful image was described by John Gottman in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A couple is fighting intensely; tearing each other down with criticism and contempt, and dodging blame with defensiveness. Suddenly, the phone rings and one partner takes a deep breath, answers the phone to hear a coworker asking about something that needed to be done. The partner on the phone immediately apologizes, thanks the coworker for the reminder and tells them that it will be done in the morning. They say “thank you” and and wish them a pleasant evening. Then they go right back to tearing into their partner.
So next time you’re fighting, ask yourself “could I say this to a coworker?” If not, don’t say it. It really is that simple sometimes!
So there are a few quick tips on how to keep fights from getting dirty and maintain healthy conflict. What are your thoughts? What are some things that you do to avoid non-productive fighting? Leave a comment, like, and share if you’re so inclined!