Fighting with your partner sucks! It’s exhausting, it hurts, and it sours the mood in your relationship. So it’s only natural that many couples ask us what they can do to avoid fights in their relationship.
This is of course a huge topic. A quick internet search will give you millions of hits. We have published several posts on this blog about fighting and conflicts, like this one, which makes a crucial distinction between what we fight about and how we fight about it.
In this post we’ll focus on what you can do to avoid fights in your relationship, whether or not your partner participates in making changes. We would of course hope that you both would be willing to learn better communication and develop kinder ways to relate, but sometimes, you just don’t want to wait for your partner to change.
As you’ll see from the two client stories we’re sharing here, there’s a lot you can do to unilaterally stop fights and improve your overall relationship. In the process, we’ll give you two practical tips you can use right away.
An important caveat before we jump in: When you have a pattern of fighting and arguing in your relationship, it’s really easy to direct all your attention at your partner’s irritating behaviors. So when you start to look at what you can do, please remember that your actions in no way “absolve” your partner’s responsibility to learn new ways to improve communication. But you never want to get stuck in waiting for your partner to change.
Linda Blair in The Guardian calls this the “DIY Approach”. She writes, “Maybe your partner doesn’t want to work on this problem. Maybe you just want to get on with other things yourself. If so, the DIY approach is for you. All you have to do is make up your mind to stop caring about whatever has been annoying you. You can do this if you will accept that your partner’s behavior is not the problem; the real problem is that you allow yourself to become irritated by that behavior.”
She also adds that this is easier said than done. But it is possible to make a decision that something you’ve been bugged by will no longer matter to you. At least not enough to fight about it.
For example, in a previous relationship, Sonika often got into arguments because her partner kept interrupting her. Over time, she realized that no amount of yelling at her partner made the interruptions stop. So, she decided on some “DIY” action. She got to the bottom of why the interruptions irked her so much, discovered a better response to the interruptions, and decided to no longer be upset by it. It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but Sonika still unilaterally stopped a recurring fight. To this day, Sonika doesn’t even know if her then-partner began to interrupt her less or it was exclusively her own change of mindset that stopped her feeling upset about the interruptions. But it doesn’t matter. The fights stopped, and Sonika got a lot more peace of mind.
More or Less
When couples come to us for coaching support, they often feel stuck in a pattern of fighting and blaming. They’ve tried whatever they could think of to improve the situation, to no avail. They both know that they’re tired of fighting. They both feel frustrated and hurt by the other person’s behaviors. And typically, they’ve tried to tell the other person in a myriad of different ways just how annoying or dysfunctional they are! And that never works, as you’ve probably figured out by trial and error!
To get both parties thinking about ways out of the impasse, we often ask each of them a simple question: “What’s one thing you could do more of that would improve your relationship?”
One couple, who for years had been blaming each other for their struggles, came to quick answers to that question. He said, “I could listen to her more”. She said, “I could offer more physical affection”. Not surprisingly, their answers reflected what their real needs were. For him, it was to be touched and receive affection. For her, it was to be listened to and receive his attention. Both of them knew exactly what they could do to improve their relationship experience!
Another question we often ask is “What’s one thing you could do less of that would improve your relationship?”
Whenever we ask either of these questions, we always hear responses that are dead-on accurate for what would make the biggest difference in creating positive change in a particular relationship. This is actually quite extraordinary. It means you know what to do! It means you know what would make a difference. It means you know what you could do more and less of to improve your situation, regardless of your partner’s actions. It might not fix your entire situation, but you can still improve things for the better!
You can modify these questions to fit a specific issue. For example, “What’s one thing I could do more of that would help us fight less?” “What’s one thing I could do less of to help create more intimacy?”
Posture Up in Fights
A women we coached shared a remarkable story after trying a new technique we had taught involving posture and stance. Her husband was a “rager”. When he got triggered about something she did or said, he would often go into raging fits, yelling and screaming, slamming doors, throwing things and breaking stuff. She was terrified and would cower until his storm blew over (there was never physical abuse involved – if there had been, this would have been a different story with different advice).
The technique we taught involved changing how we communicate with our body language (it’s beyond the scope of this post, but a big part of recurring fighting patterns is what you and your partner communicate with your bodies). Up until this point, her body posture was one of cowering. She’d talk about “making myself smaller” or “trying to hide” or “feeling like a 5-year old girl”. From that stance, her husband’s rage appeared even more frightening; making her smaller and him bigger.
The next time he flew into a rage and started yelling, she did something completely different. Instead of cowering in the corner, she sat up straight on the couch, spread her arms wide over the back of the couch, and just watched him “do his thing”. He had just picked up a vase to throw, but upon seeing her in her relaxed, confident posture on the couch, he froze. For a moment, he looked totally puzzled. Then he put the vase back and started cleaning up his mess. She didn’t hear another word from him.
That one move helped her change the entire dynamic in her relationship. It eventually helped her to connect to her own power and stand up for herself, and she eventually found the courage to leave him. It was a true DIY move. She learned the technique. She took the action. She produced the shift.
You would always hope that your partner would take responsibility for their behavior and be willing to learn better ways to communicate in relationship. But sometimes your partner might not have the ability or commitment to do the work required. Good news – there are always things you can do unilaterally to stop fighting in your relationship, things you can do to create more harmony, love and fun.
Don’t be like most couples who spend weeks, months or years in a frozen impasse waiting for the other person to make the first move and change the relationship. Start doing what you can do. Start influencing what you can influence. Not only will you point yourself to more joy and intimacy, you just might find that you encourage your partner (in a non-blaming way) to join you in the process!
In addition to the tips we shared here, you can join us for a virtual mini-workshop, How To Avoid Fights, where we will teach you a step-by-step process of what you can do to avoid fights, reduce tension and frustration, and create more peace. A mini-workshop is a short course that focuses on one issue at a time, such as how to avoid fights. You’ll learn a step-by-step process to use, and you’ll get to practice with your partner on the spot. As you’ve read above, the DIY approach is great, but it’s not easy to pull off without guidance. In a mini-workshop, you get competent guidance while you learn. All in 90 minutes or less, from anywhere in the world. Register here …