Do you keep fighting ? Learn how to deal with your conflicts

Dernière mise à jour : 27 févr. 2021

Do you keep arguing and you don't know how to get off the argument hamster wheel ?

My favorite couple therapist Esther Perel says "Fight, it is a must".

A love relationship follows the cycle of harmony - disharmony - repair.

When a couple fights about the same thing, there are 3 main themes underneath:

1) power and control;

2) closeness and care;

3) respect and recognition;

no matter the subject of the argument.

Each person in a couple brings their own family history, a culture of fighting. It is energy. Each partner has a different style of fighting but both partners contribute, no matter what they say and not say, to the escalation of an argument.

Liz comes home in the evening; Tim sits in front of the TV with the kids, dinner is not ready, homework not finished, and toys everywhere. She gets upset with him and starts blaming him for not being reliable. She attacks him. Behind her anger, there is fatigue, hurt, a feeling of a lack of respect, and a lack of recognition. Tim starts explaining himself, being defensive. The fight escalates, leaving each of them hurt and alone; no repair attempt.

How to fight better? How to stop negative escalation?

Improve your communication

Communication is a word that surfaces again and again. Most couple psychotherapists agree that being in a couple today is all about effective communication. But, unfortunately, the right words are very often missing. As a result, we switch to our primitive responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn.

  • Communication;

  • managing differences;

  • and dealing with change

are the three major reasons people start looking for couple therapy.

To stabilise the relationship it is important to work on communication. First, we identify patterns linked to common communication mistakes. John Gottman speaks about four horsemen to be absolutely avoided in couple's discussion:

  • criticism

  • contempt

  • defensiveness

  • stonewalling

I would add blaming, manipulating, lying, and dismissiveness. Understanding where the mistake is made is a good start when looking to improve communication.

Only then can we start learning how to communicate.

Today’s best practices in communication are inspired by

- non-violent communication;

- NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming); and,

- transactional analysis.

Non-violent communication is based on identifying feelings straight away and making clear demands based on observation. This way of communication is not offensive and promotes empathy and self-awareness.

Typically, you start your sentences with an "I" statement.

"When I hear you saying that, it really makes me feel sad; I would rather need you to help me to learn how to be a better spouse for you than comparing me with your female colleagues. Would that be ok with you to stop comparing me and tell me what do you expect from me ?"

Transactional analysis teaches us what role we take when we communicate and how one role triggers another one, typically child vs. parent. By talking to someone as a critical parent, the other one slips into the child's role and behaves in an irresponsible way.

It is also important to understand that communicating in a relationship is not predominantly about being right and convincing the other person there is an absolute truth.

There is no concrete truth.

Tom and Sara argue quite often about the education of their kids. Both are very educated people interested and involved in the education of their children. Not only they read and informed themselves about the latest theories of children’s bringing up, they would like not to repeat the same mistakes their parents made, but transfer the things they appreciated about their education. Many aspects to be taken into account when deciding about the routines to be respected by their children, about the eating habits of their kids and organization of their leisure time.

Tom and Sara repeatedly argue about the education of their kids trying to convince each other about the legitimacy of their decisions and justifying their opinions.

Instead of convincing our partner, ask for clarification, try to understand.

Try to switch from REACTING to REFLECTING,

says Esther Perel.

There is a way of seeing things – a perception or interpretation – and a willingness to find a compromise. Communication is about getting closer and not losing any sense of intimacy or connection.

One thing is to know the communication techniques, maybe even more important is to listen to the other partner. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of "5 Love Languages" advises saying something like: “I think I understand what you’re saying, what you’re feeling, and it makes a lot of sense.”

But if we don't understand we can make a proof of empathy and resonate with our partner and say simply "I see I made you upset." "I hear you are not being happy right now."

This one sentence brings you closer to each other.

Listening is an important part of the communication.

Understand your differences

When we argue, we face our differences. In cross-cultural couples, we face cultural differences, in any couple we face family culture differences. There is not one person alike. Even if we read the same book, we might not interpret it the same way. We have different experiences, different cultural and educational backgrounds, different feelings, values.

Instead of looking for solutions, we can actually ask questions to find out more about our partner's feelings, thoughts, needs, and values.

Be curious, get to know your partner, ask questions to learn more, and understand.

Fighting is not about winning it is about understanding each other.

Manage your conflicts

According to Gottman, these are the 6 most current topics couples fight about:

- finances

- sex

- in-laws

- housework

- education of children

- stress

As a couple with children, we will discuss all these topics over time. The big majority of problems are solvable and we are able to compromise about them.

But, there is one topic that will become a "gridlocked" perpetual problem. This is the problem that is linked to our dreams. Instead of trying to solve the problem, it is advised to understand our partner's dreams and accept that these dreams don't have to be ours.


Repair is an attempt to reconnect. Each couple has its own way of repairing and in each couple, there is usually one person who is better at starting the repair. It could be a kiss, touch, joke, gift, words, service...The best repair is the one that corresponds to our love language.

An apology can come along with the repair. Liz can actually apologize to Tim for not reacting appropriately. It is important to feel responsible and therefore guilty for starting the fight; without feeling ashamed.

How to prevent conflicts

1) FEEL AS A TEAM helps to solve problems, find creative solutions, and promote common values.

When we stick together, we create a sense of trust and confidence. We stop the power game and make space for vulnerability.

Our relationship becomes a healing place, not the hurting place.

2) WORK TOWARDS THE SAME OBJECTIVES: sharing a home, raising children, having intimate moments, spending leisure time together, have common dreams,... helps to feel involved and belong.


While it could be sometimes more efficient to clearly split the roles and have own centre of expertise. For example, traditionally, one would be responsible for providing for the family, the house maintenance, and the garden, the other one responsible for raising kids and cooking. In the long term, it is more efficient and less stressful when both partners are able to step in each other's competencies.


"The only certainty is change," says Esther Perel on her blog. We move and change to new environments, adapt to different professions, meet new people and experience new things. And any long-term couple goes through a plethora of changes – first, they meet, then move in together and decide whether or not to have kids. At the same time, they build a home together, travel, and discover the world. All these events trigger conflicts and inspire change at the same time.

In principle, changes make us evolve and grow as people, but they do not necessarily bring us together. In an ideal scenario, both partners encourage each other to change and grow. But, it might be that the one partner cannot follow the new direction or, indeed, does not want to. Eventually, both partners move in the same direction, but not at the same pace. People also adapt differently to new challenges and deal with them in different ways. All kinds of reactions are possible.

Be ready to reinvent your relationship and step out of your comfort zone.

Most of us are afraid of change. Human beings prefer stability and familiarity. But navigating through changes and growing together is one of the reasons for starting, and benefits of, a long-term relationship.

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