Things I've Learned Since Turning 30: Fighting

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Looking back at my first relationships, it's safe to say that I had a flair for the dramatic. While my ex-boyfriends and I never did the break up/get back together thing repeatedly, I had a habit of starting little fights, just for the sake of having something to argue about. As I've matured, I've worked to remove the theatrics from my relationships and to resolve disagreements in a civilized, pragmatic approach. It seems weird to admit, but I've learned how to fight, at least in the way Geoffrey and I handle conflicts. Here are seven of the things that I keep in mind when we have an argument.

1.Have a goal. One of my friends shared a strategy that's always helped her. Instead of blindly jumping into a fight, truly figure out what you want to get out of it before it begins. Whether you want someone to adjust a certain behavior or perhaps you're simply looking for an apology, those are things to clearly identify early on. I've found that sometimes when I'm just annoyed, there's not really anything that I'm even looking for, which helps me move on and drop it instead of escalating it into something bigger.

2.How to speak. It's easy to point fingers when you're in the midst of an argument, but using non-accusatory words makes a big difference and keeps the other person from getting defensive. I used to use statements like, "you did this or you did that," instead of saying how something made me feel. That small shift is less about blame and more about sharing an emotional take on a situation, which is an important distinction. 

3.Respecting space. When G and I first started dating and we'd get into a fight, he'd often times request a bit of space so that we could both calm down. And instead of respecting his need for a little air, it would get me even more resentful that he wanted to suspend our discussion. Now I realize it's simply how he processes things and that if it's important for him to take himself out of the situation momentarily, that's not a bad thing. But he never just books it and leaves me standing there - we'll decide how much time we need, whether that's 15 minutes or a few hours. Having that timeline reassures me that we're not abandoning our talk, but just taking a little break to clear our heads before jumping back in. 

4.Avoid triggers. Everyone has triggers - things that set them off and make them feel their most vulnerable. Taking advantage of that in a fight is unfair and dirty, so we try to make sure that we never hit below the belt. No matter how intense an argument becomes, we both feel safe enough knowing that it's not going to verge on anything too vindictive or vengeful. In general, avoiding "That was way harsh, Tai" kinds of scenarios.

5.Know how to apologize. Since I can be stubborn, learning how to apologize wasn't something that came naturally to me. At times, it felt as though saying that I was sorry was admitting that I had intentionally done something wrong or meant to be hurtful, which I now realize isn't how it works. Regardless of my good intentions, if I do offend someone, I need to apologize for doing so. A good rule of thumb I now follow is to acknowledge my behavior, apologize for it and assure G that I'll work on not letting it happen again. It kind of wraps everything up in a past-meets-present-meets-future sort of way that makes me take full responsibility for my behavior.

6.We don't always have to agree. You know those people who get into fights and at the end, shrug their shoulders and say, "well, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree?" I hate that phrase. But I've now at least come around to the mentality behind it. I feel fortunate that G and I, for the most part, do see eye-to-eye on most things. But for those instances when we disagree and can't meet in the middle, I chalk it up to the fact that we're not one person and those sorts of healthy debates are bound to happen. 

7.How to properly listen. Perhaps the most important change is in the way I handle myself when not speaking during an argument. I used to impatiently wait until it was my turn to jump back in and rebut certain points, which made me not entirely present or that receptive to what G was saying, since I was too focused on my next move. I don't just hear what he's saying, but truly listen. It seems like they're the same thing, but G explained it to me in the way that we listen to music: if a song is playing, we'll hear it, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we're listening - understanding and interpreting lyrics. It definitely takes a conscious effort to incorporate these steps while you're in the middle of a heated discussion, but strong and effective communication is built through practice.