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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fighting vs P/S communication

I recently told someone that in 13+ years my partner and I have never had a fight. They seemed duly impressed but then asked me how that happens.

First, it helps to note that normally in an unhealthy relationship if there is no fighting it is because one person suppresses expression of their opinion out of fear, a sense of pointlessness (I'm not going to be heard anyway or It won't make any difference), or because they feel their opinion so frequently matches their partner's that there is no reason to "rock the boat".

Fighting is often an escalated response to some perceived or actual injustice in the relationship. It is often directly proportional to the amount of resentment one or both of the people have and not always what the fight is actually about. It's about baggage.

Changing the game on this is about unpacking your mental suitcase and not letting the load you have carried interfere with the loving, and kind dynamic you want to maintain. My feelings are not as important as the relationship and what it provides me in the long run. Does harboring such feelings support our goals in the relationship?

The negative feelings of resentment, anger and fear can be summed up this way... Resentment is not getting my way in the past,
Anger is not getting my way in the present,
and Fear is not getting my way in the future.

So how does one go about not fighting? P/S or problem/solution communication.

In a normal non-functional argument what is happening is toxic venting. It's as if you are actually saying, "I feel this way and you ought to know that you are responsible for those feelings." This is unrealistic. It also places the person on the defensive to find ways in which you are not meeting their needs as a defense, or justification for their action or inaction.

Here are our guidelines for a productive argument:

Know the problem: If I pop off some sarcastic remark about some little thing Mad Science or Prof has done that is a signpost that there is something I need to deal with.
Usually it is because I had an expectation that was unrealistic, and often unvoiced.

There are three things I know for a fact:
1.) I can not change another person's actions by any act, word, or inclination on my part.
2.) An unspoken need is an unmet need.
3.) No one can guess my needs and fulfill them 100% of the time.

So then the problem is what ever I expected from some action I committed to, the desire for my partner to be telepathic, or a sense of a short transaction.

Sometimes a fight is because I haven't dealt with this in another situation with a person outside our relationship, like the teller at the bank.

I am angry/fearful/hurt/sad etc., because _____.

Knowing my part: I find when I am experiencing a negative emotion there is a reason and usually it's me. This is a problem because? I expected too much? I failed to negotiate for something? Am I choosing to feel this way for some other reason and it is bleeding into my relationship? Do I just want to be angry?  Sometimes, I do. It's ok sometimes being angry gives me the energy to do something about a problem.  It's a lot easier to defuse the need to argue if I know that I had some part in the problem. Sometimes it stops right there with me. Once I look at and deal with the feeling it stops.

This is a problem to me because_________.

Allow the other person to take responsibility for their part: This one is tricky because it is the place disagreements become personal. Here is an example of how we do this.

The situation: I felt lonely and bored because Mad Science spent most of the weekend away from home and I didn't get any significant time with him.

My Part: I did approve the weekend away when he asked me if it was a problem. Then I chose to feel crappy. It could have stopped there but I had been withdrawn when interacting with him so I needed to talk about it with him.

I stated the problem: I feel upset because I don't feel connected to you. I think it is because I expected more quality time since we had so little quantity time together this weekend. I don't want to go away next weekend unless we have this resolved. I realize that I have not been available emotionally this last week and I am feeling sort of needy this weekend. (I am talking about my feelings, and taking responsibility for my part. Then I shut up. No accusations, no making him responsible for my feelings.)

Allowing him to take responsibility for his part:

He says: I don't really feel connected to you either, after work I have been really tired and this weekend I just needed to hang out with the guys.

Solution: He says: "How can we feel more connected this week before you go on your trip?"

I say: we could cuddle in bed and watch some tv, or we could play cards, go bowling, or engage in a discussion about what is on our minds (work, politics, our current projects etc.)

He says: what about cuddling and tv?

I say: Ok. The disagreement is over without raising a voice or calling names.

This works for everything, granted some things take longer to work out. But rather than let the recurring feeling of helplessness get out of hand we talk about it again and reaffirm the longterm solution.

For example: We have been living sort of slim for a long time now in order to be debt free. This is frustrating because there are a lot of things we like to do we can't afford. But rather than me accusing him of not paying enough on bills fast enough or of him accusing me of being lazy and not having a job. I look at my options. I could get a job. We could negotiate some mad money or a date night, we can have a creative challenge to see who can come up with a fun and free way to feel "richer", and this, coupled with a decided action helps soften the blow of a stretch of time without. It is also good to have some kind of tangible time table for such things or to think about what we will have money to do and what we can do with it later. In other words why waiting is worth it.

Making Amends and gratitude: This is the icing on the solution. If I had thrown a fit about being lonely (I admit it sometimes happens). We would need to make amends for anything we did that was hurtful or implied that the other person was responsible for how we reacted. But whether there was acting out or not it is always helpful to say: Thank you, I appreciate you taking time out to help me through this.

And remember not everything that bothers you, a left off toothpaste cap, or laundry on the floor is worth fighting about. Acceptance that a person is who they are is mostly enough to cover this. If it bothers me but not them I need to take the action, put the cap on the paste or pick up the clothes. If it doesn't bother them not to, why am I trying to change them so it does?

That's how we do it. I am sure there are other ways what's your story?

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