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  • Jason Whetstone

Healthy Conflict vs Fighting


This blog is about conflict in your relationships. While, this will not directly address your fathering skills, your relationship with your partner does directly affect your children and will have a very big impact on their mental and emotional health as well as their ability to build healthy relationships of their own.

Unfortunately, in our society today, it is becoming more and more the accepted norm that fighting is and must be a part of our relationships. I have heard several so-called relationship experts say that you cannot have a healthy relationship without fighting and arguing periodically. I even heard one woman who was supposed to be a prestigious marriage expert state that if someone told her that they had been married for any significant length of time and had never had a fight, then she would be very worried about their relationship.

I disagree. Strongly. To me this is backwards and wrong.

Now it could be that some of the people that say those things are saying “fight” and actually mean “conflict.” I do believe that conflict, when handled correctly, can be very healthy and can help a relationship grow and flourish.

While all fights are conflicts, not all conflicts are fights, nor do they have to develop into fights. So, let's look at some differences between healthy conflict and fighting, and address some of the issues that are caused by arguments and fights within relationships, and some ways you can have healthy conflict in your relationship without it developing into an argument or a fight.

One of the main differences between a healthy conflict and a fight or argument is that a fight in a relationship usually takes place on impulse. A healthy conflict will be intentional and often scheduled. A fight is typically self-centered, and its purpose is to win or to prove yourself right. A healthy conflict usually involves two people who are willing to listen to each other and discuss various points. One of the primary goals of a fighter is to damage his opponent to the point that they are unable to continue. People who are involved in a healthy conflict will be focused on coming to a mutual resolution that will benefit the situation and the people involved. The most important difference between a fight and a conflict is the affect they have on a relationship.

A FIGHT

In order to fight effectively, you have to attack. You have to cause your partner to see that your argument is right while her argument is invalid, and that she would be foolish to disagree with you. That’s what a fight is.

I have always been a big fan of boxing. The technical fighters will throw a lot of punches to the ribs and shoulders. The shots to the ribs will affect the fighter’s ability to take a deep breath (affects stamina) and the blows to the shoulders will affect punching power (will keep you from getting knocked out or seriously hurt). My point is that the goal of this offensive attack is both to render your opponent unable to last as long in the fight and to make them unable to hit you as hard. If a fighter doesn’t approach the fight with this mentality, they will lose, and no one enters into a fight to lose.

Here is one problem with this: she has the same mentality. She didn’t enter the fight to lose either. So, as you fight for your side, and she fights for her side, things will escalate, making a point will turn into arguing, arguing will turn to insults and personal attacks, and that is when severe damage is done. Then three things happen:

  1. The attacks will cause emotional injuries.

  2. Taking on the “fight” mentality will harden you toward each other and you will begin to hold grudges and your attacks will become more and more vicious and damaging.

  3. Hearts will be wounded and/or broken. Your relationship will be damaged and will then need serious help to heal.

A HEALTHY CONFLICT

When my wife and I got engaged, we sat down and set some goals for our future and one of them was to never fight. We purposed to never yell at each other, to never call each other ugly names, and to never hurl insults. We agreed that even if we had to walk away, go for a drive, put earbuds in, whatever it took, we would rather explain the silence than have to deal with the injuries and scars from fighting. We have been married over 17 years and we have had conflicts. We have had times when we had to walk away for a little while and come back to finish the conversation. But in every case we have been able to calm down, get to a resolution, and afterward, there were no broken hearts, no wounds to heal, and no broken relationship to mend. These were times when a conflict could have easily turned into a fight, but we were able to subdue the flashes of emotions and move forward to resolve our conflict with focus and open discussion.

What makes a healthy conflict is the ability to reach a resolution, and to also be able to prove to each other that it is more important to protect each other from harm than it is to be right. With this mindset, your trust will grow, your faith in each other will grow, and you will be able to continue being vulnerable with each other and continue to build your relationship.

So, I want to share some steps you can take to use healthy conflict to grow your relationship and also keep the conflict from turning into a fight.

  • Make a plan ahead of time. Sit down with your partner and talk about conflict resolution. Tell her that you are trying to work on being better in your relationship and would like to sit down and talk about how to avoid actually fighting.

  • Have a list made ahead of time of thoughts you want to discuss. This will show her that you are serious about growth and have been giving it some thought.

  • Make sure you allow her time to talk about what she thinks about your ideas. Listen and respond to let her know that you value her input.

  • If she says something like, “this isn’t like you,” it’s ok. That means that she notices something different.

  • Engage in open dialogue with no subject off limits.

  • Keep Passion in check. When you are in a conflict it will usually concern a subject you feel strongly about, so remember to try to keep the conversation focused on resolution, not on winning. Remember, conflict is focused on the relationship and not on winning in the moment.

This may feel strange or intimidating at first but remember that this is the woman that you are being intimate with. She wants you to be open and honest with her…and she doesn’t want to fight either. Honesty is always best. Keep in mind that when a woman opens up to you that she is being vulnerable and is baring her heart to you. If you respond with anger, irritation, or disdain she will tend to close down, and it will damage her ability to trust you and open up to you in the future (I got that advice from a woman, so don’t question me on this one). Realize that some conversations do take a lot out of you emotionally and mentally and if you allow yourself to become to worn out, then the emotions can start to take over, so be willing to take a break in an intense conversation.

Always remember and remind each other, “We are on the same side.” You are not enemies and you want to win with each other. We all know this in our hearts but sometimes, especially in times of conflict, we need to remind ourselves. Always remain committed to each other. In order for our relationships to work, we must be committed to love, grow, and change to become better…better partners, better fathers, and better men.

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