Fight The Good Fight

In a study of marital arguments and fighting, Daniel Goleman reports some interesting results:

“The new study shows that certain kinds of fights can improve some marriages and draws a clear distinction between the kinds of arguments that nurture a relationship and those that sink it. Arguments in which one or the other partner becomes defensive or stubborn, or whines or withdraws, are particularly destructive. Those fights in which the partners freely express their anger while not letting the intensity escalate out of control bode well for the future.”

So how do we fight the good fight, the productive fight?

We avoid destructive behaviors such as:

  • Defensiveness and excuse-making
  • Focusing on what we don’t want instead of what we do want
  • Contemptuous remarks, insults and name-calling
  • Blaming
  • Whining
  • Walking away or giving the “silent treatment”

We engage in productive behaviors such as:

  • Stating concrete, specific complaints and issues
  • Expressing our anger to show how important the issue is
  • Showing respect for the disagreement
  • Being willing to engage in problem solving
  • Bringing up your concerns and issues so that you “feel heard”
  • Talk about behaviors instead of making judgments
Time for the “Good Fight.”

It may seem counterintuitive to get better at something that we would like to avoid (such as “fighting”) but the study shows that couples that have productive fights are more likely to stick together and have a happier long-term relationship:

“The most fruitful fights, the study showed, were those in which the partners felt free to be angry with each other, felt they made themselves understood to their partner, and finally came to a resolution involving some degree of compromise. Such fights give a couple the strong sense that they can weather conflict together.”

The study also described how some couples have “rules of engagement” that help them to keep arguments on-track or productive such as:

  • No swearing or name-calling
  • No withdrawal or “stony silence”
  • Everyone gets to have a say (a fair turn to speak)
  • One person speaks at a time
  • No physical fighting or throwing things
  • Clear statements of what is wanted/desired
  • Other mutually agreed rules

So rather than avoiding a touchy subject, it’s time to be heard. Rather than maintaining a stony silence, take time to resolve the issue. Rather than bottling-up our feelings to the point of explosion, have a productive argument.

But if we’re going to fight, let’s fight the good fight!