It never occurred to me that there was a problem with the way I approached confrontation with my loved ones. I spewed my feelings, raised my voice, overreacted, brought up past grievances I had been marinating in, and went into every argument with one goal in mind: to be the victor. I believed that arguing in relationships was always a bad thing, but if I could fight and claw my way into the winner’s circle and coerce an apology out of my partner, I would gain his respect and admiration. I wasn’t afraid of admitting guilt and apologizing when I was wrong– I just never thought I was wrong.
Until one day my boyfriend of eight months reality checked me with this poignant, calm declaration during a fight: “We’re not doing this anymore, this is not how our relationship is going to be. We can have disagreements and arguments but we are going to talk about them calmly like adults. You’re not going to raise your voice and name call, and you’re not always going to be right.” My knee-jerk reaction was to do what I had always done before when called out: pack up and leave. But he was different– we were different. For one of the first times in my life, I practiced some serious introspection, and my findings were alarming.
He was right. I didn’t know that there was a different way to fight– one that was constructive and healthy. A way that didn’t make each person feel violated, defensive, and permanently bruised afterwards. This is how my boyfriend (now husband) taught me to fight.
1. I can’t get mad simply because he is mad.
It was extremely difficult for me to even realize I was doing this in my relationship. If I was called out or confronted on something, I was instantly furious. I rationalized that “if you cared about me you wouldn’t be getting mad at me for this, and that makes me mad.” It creates a lack of trust because your partner will never feel like they can be honest with you and let you know when they are upset.
2. No raised voices or name calling. One time, very early in our relationship, I told my (then) boyfriend that he was “acting like a dick.” I didn’t even call him a dick, I said he was acting like one. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice– he calmly told me that I would never call him a name ever again. And I haven’t. As it turns out, when you aren’t raising your voice and name calling, you can organize your thoughts better, express yourself more clearly, and a resolution is so much easier to achieve.
3. One person is not always going to be right– practice being objective. It’s impossible for one person to always be wrong or right. The jokes that the “woman is always right” can be amusing, but also dangerous. I believed that– I thought that was how relationships worked and it was how everyone else was operating because people joked about it at such great lengths. Fact: unhealthy relationships operate this way. Objectivity is not something that comes natural to everybody, so practice! When in an argument, pretend you’re giving relationship advice to a friend– what would you tell her? With every single argument, force yourself to write down three reasons that your partner or spouse is actually right, or their feelings are valid. Even if you believe 100% you are right, do the exercise. Then revisit the discussion and see how it goes. You can still have your opinion, but now at least it will be more understanding.
4. Research your personality type. Okay, so my previously explosive fighting style was not totally my fault. As an INFP, I am an introverted, feeling, perceiver which is a really loving and compassionate personality type, until she feels like she has been wronged or is being attacked. Then she gets nasty. My husband, on the other hand, is an INTJ– so he is an introverted, thinking, judging type. He is naturally calm and analytical, hence his horrified expressions when I would erupt with red hot emotion and rage. After researching our respective Myers-Briggs personality types together, it was like something clicked. I suddenly understood why he acts the way he does, and he began to understand my quirks too. I can’t encourage this enough– study your personality types and learn how each person operates. It will feel like you are reading a Spark Notes on your significant other.
5. Avoid generalized, black and white thinking. I used to have an incredibly difficult time separating isolated incident A from husband’s overall character and motives. If he did something that made me upset, I felt like it was a reflection on his entire core character. I would get angry and throw out blanket statements like, “you always think about yourself first” or “you always make me feel like this.” I didn’t take into account the millions of other things he did to take care of me, protect me, and make sure I was happy every single day. Because in the instant that I became unhappy, he was a bad guy and everything he ever did was bad. This global thinking is what I see in so many relationships, and I recognize it so fast now because it’s exactly how I used to operate. It’s what I believe leads to years of resentment and pent up anger. Just because someone messes up doesn’t discount all of their good qualities. Learn to look at each incident separately, and unless it truly is a behavior that is repeated and is not being worked on, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Everyone messes up, and a mess up is not indicative of a bad person. Ya know, unless their mess up is murder of infidelity.
My husband and I rarely fight anymore. In fact, I can’t remember the last real argument we had. When we do have them, they are always calm discussions. I almost look forward to them in a weird way because I know that I will get the chance to explain myself, and that my husband will listen to my input and will genuinely try to understand my point of view. And I do the same for him. Arguments are now a learning experience and a chance to understand each other’s perspectives more deeply.
If you’re in an arguing rut with your significant other, take some time to explore your fighting style. View it as a social experiment– try on some different types of boxing gloves and see which ones are constructive, and which ones only do damage. You may also be surprised with what you find.
14 thoughts on “The Art of Argument: How Learning to Fight Saved My Relationship”
Doing all those things sounds really hard! I get angry fast and hold onto it, even when my logical brain is asking me “why? what are you doing?”…I don’t know if I can actually get my logical brain to fully take over when I’m mad 😦
Love this post Courtney! SO proud of you both!!
Thank you! I’m so thankful you & Dane raised Isaac the way you did– he has taught me so much. He has calmed down my “feeling” side a wee bit, which needed to be done 🙂 He’s a brave boy! lol
Wise beyond your years! Excellent post, from your exact opposite (ESTJ). 🙂
Thanks Pops! It is funny how our types are 100% opposite– it doesn’t feel that way when we are together though! You are an ESTJ who is very in tune with emotions and sensitivity! I admire that so much in you. Love you!!!
I admit that I fight dirty when it comes to emotional stuff, depending on how attacked I am feeling. I have said if I ever get into a long-term relationship again, I will have to make sure we get counseling on how to “fight” constructively.
Yup, I always did too! I was known as the one in my family who would fight back with nasty, hurtful comments that were 10x meaner than what the original person did to me. Not pretty! Learning how to fight constructively was life changing for me, and makes me see why NONE of my other relationships worked out, among other reasons. But this was a big one. Fighting doesn’t have to be a bad or painful thing at all, and I never realized that before. Getting counseling on how to fight constructively is a wonderful idea! More people should do that! 😀
ENTJ here. I would say “I feel you” but I guess it should be “I think you.” Okay, that really doesn’t work very well.
Thoughtful post. I wish you and Mr. TheOtherCourtney years of happy and constructive arguing.
Too funny– reminds me of something my dad always says. He is an ESTJ, so very close to your personality type. However his wife and all four of his daughters are “feelers” not “thinkers”, so while he used to be a VERY strong “T”, he is now teetering closer to the border of “T” and “F.” He says that after all these years, his daughters beat the F into him. Hah! Are you and your wife similar personality types? What about your daughter?
Not sure my wife has ever taken the M-B personality assessment. If I would hazard a guess she would be ISIS, er, I mean ISFJ. Although at work she’s more likely than not to T rather than F. Strong I absolutely no N and like me, off the fucking scales re J.
Our middle child (20) took the assessment last year in college I should ask her. She’s particularly interesting. Probably ENTJ like me I fear. The other two have not taken it.
I would be so afraid to find out how my son (22) scores. Probably ISTJ. My baby (18) is more of an ESFP–she’s the nurturing one studying to be a nurse.
Isn’t it amazing how all the kids can be such different types having the same two parents? I’m so fascinated by the MB typing.
Also, your ISIS comment made me laugh so hard that I may have jolted the people around me. Hilarious.