When conflict arises in a relationship there are a number of ways of responding to the situation which include; compromise, collaboration, avoidance, defusion and competition.
I’m not going to cover each one here in this article, but rather look at what typically happens in an argument and the guidelines that can be implemented to ensure clean communication. Clean communication will ensure fair fighting occurs and maintain each person’s self-esteem despite the conflict.
When conflict arises in a relationship emotions are often high which can leads to misinterpretation. One person will say what they have to say and the second person takes offence to what has been said and becomes accusatory or defensive.
Accusations and blame are exchanged back and forwards with the use of ‘You’ statements which ultimately leads to a situation where neither person is really listening to what the other person is actually saying. The result of this is emotions running high and each person involved taking a battering to their self-esteem.
Is there a way to fight fairly without each person ending up feeling hurt, misunderstood, angry and confused? By following some fair fighting guidelines it is possible to maintain self-esteem whilst dealing with conflict issues.
Avoid using judgemental words or terms
Such words as helpless, unco-operative, childish, thoughtless etc. convey that the other person is somehow flawed. Words like this damage the other person’s feelings of worth. Avoid using ‘You’ messages, by making statements such as ‘you never….’, ‘you always…..’, ‘you didn’t….’ etc. you are placing blame onto the other person for how you are feeling and making their actions bad or wrong.
Avoid global labels
Using global labels such as ‘stupid, selfish, evil, sexist, lazy, crazy’ etc. attacks them as a person not just their behaviour. Although they may feel correct and just to the person using them at the time, global labels will result in a loss of trust and closeness in the relationship.
Avoid negative comparisons
A negative comparison, such as one to a parent, never resolves anything as there sole function is to punish and attack the other person and make them feel bad about themselves.
Avoid old history
Focus on the current issue rather than dragging up past history in order to build a case against your partner and their faults as you see them.
Threats suggest you believe the other person is bad and deserves to be punished. Describe your feelings rather than attack with them. Whereas attacking with your feelings will cause your voice to get louder, harsh, hostile, threatening and sarcastic, describing your feelings will allow your voice to remain at almost normal volume and inflection. When you describe your feelings use clarifying words to make them better understood. Using descriptive words for your feelings such as ‘I’m feeling rather hurt and sad….’, ‘I’m sad and tearful….’, ‘I’m scared…’ etc. will allow the other person to hear what you are feeling rather than feeling overwhelmed and attacked.
Keep body language open and receptive
Your body language will influence how easily communication occurs. When a person is not willing to communicate they may indicate this through their body language by folding arms, frowning, looking away in a disgusted manner, squinting or pointing an accusing finger. Open communication can be maintained by keeping good eye contact, keeping arms unfolded, nodding, leaning forward if sitting and keeping the face loose and relaxed.
Use whole messages
Whole messages include observations, thoughts, feelings and needs or wants. Observations are facts that are neutral and without judgement. Thoughts are made up of theories, beliefs, opinions and interpretations of a situation. Thoughts are not absolute truth but rather your personal understanding of a situation. As mentioned previously feelings should be expressed without attributing blame on the other person. As your partner is not a mind reader it is important to clearly express your needs so they know what you want. Whole messages include all four of the above components – you need to describe the observation that lead to your conclusion, your feelings surrounding these conclusions and your desire for something to change. In order to be understood it is important that none of the components of a whole message are left out.
Use clear messages
Clear messages separate observations, opinions, feelings and needs however contaminated messages mix or mislabel the components and create hurt and confusion.
The statement ‘you’re talkative tonight’ if said in a sarcastic manner could be considered by the speaker as an observation however it is contaminated by judging thoughts, feelings and needs. A clearer way of expressing the same statement would be to include all four components, for example ‘I’ve noticed you are not talking much tonight.(Observation) It makes me think you’re not interested in talking to me (thought), and I feel hurt and sad (feeling). I’d really like it if we were able to talk more. (need)’ Contaminated messages leaves the other person knowing there is more to the message however not sure how they are supposed to interpret it.
It is inevitable in relationships that conflict will arise however with the use of clean communication each person’s self-esteem can remain intact by fighting fairly and avoiding being misunderstood, angry, hurt and confused. It may take some effort and practice to break out of old ways of doing things however the benefits to the relationship will be worth it in the long run.
Jo Thomson is a HypnoBirthing Practitioner, Life Coach and Midwife. She is based on the NSW Central Coast where she conducts HypnoBirthing classes and specializes in pregnancy and parenting life coaching. For more information about any of her services she can be contacted via her website at www.destinybychoice.com.au