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Post Info TOPIC: Fighting Fair


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Fighting Fair
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One of the things I found helpful to setting boundaries was reading something called "fighting fair", it's all about using "I" messages, and for me, "I feel" being the most effective, I can argue with how you think, but I can't argue with how you feel.

Example, years ago I was in couples counseling/therapy and my GF said "yadda yadda blah blah and it upsets me"

the therapist said, "That's right"

I was outraged and indignant, and I responded with, "Blah blah yadda yadda" (my version of said events, clearly proving she was "wrong")

The therapist said, "that's right too"

She said, "our feelings were our feelings, and our perception of the events were our reality, that's what we saw and how we saw it"

I was ...flabbergasted...so now, If I have one view of a situation, and you have another, you aren't necessarily "wrong" and since then that has been one of the most important things I ever learned.

So we can both be upset, we can both have a different "take" on what happened but We can both be "right" if we are dealing with feelings.

When you ______ I feel ___________

here's one version:

Fights happen when we feel threatened about something that is important to us. Otherwise with the painfulness of conflict, we would be willing to let go of the issue. Some of our values, attitudes or possessions are challenged making us feel that our basic self esteem is threatened. We take a defensive stand and come out swinging. Unfortunately few of us know how to fight in a productive way. We have learned rules for fighting from those people who did not know how to express themselves in constructive ways--our parents. When we are challenged, we often revert back to our little child self, hurt and angry. We simply perpetuate poor communication habits because we do not know how to do anything different.


But wait! Research and family systems theory to the rescue! Here is what current psychology has to say about approaching the tricky problem of getting what you want without beating up yourself and your mate. Here are some ideas that will help you reduce heated arguments and stay on the track of figuring out what will be the best for both of you. Here are some rules for fair fighting.


* Don't let things fester inside. Anger must be expressed or it will build up. Schedule arguments ahead of time when you feel the pressure building up. Agree before hand that there are some things that you can disagree on (opinions on politics, personal interests and beliefs.) Other things must be worked through (how to raise the children, spend money, how you would like to be treated, etc..) Determine which category your topic falls in.


* Chose a time when you will not be distracted by family members, guests or television and when you both are relatively relaxed. Sit face to face and keep eye contact at the same level. Make a contract to discuss the issue of concern only and agree to avoid those ways of acting that sabotage problem solving. Make a commitment to use the rules of fair fighting.


* Express what is going on to the best of your ability. Talk feelings. Tell the person how you feel about what is going on. Feeling first, solutions later. Get your point across in a constructive way by owning how you feel about the topic. Use the formula sentence, When you _____, I feel ____ . This simple statement allows you to take responsibility for your own feelings and behavior without blaming the other person.


Learning to use this feeling statement to express your emotions helps you stay in the present and keeps you real. Practice this sentence over and over in times when you are not angry so that it becomes part of your vocabulary. Sharing of feelings increases intimacy. Avoid sentences that begin with You always.... Don't tell the other person what they always do in a blaming way, but focus on what you want to have happen. Keep coming back to the I feel formula that helps you own your own feelings. Talk feelings, talk feelings, talk feelings!


* Allow the other person's feelings to come out. Do not discount the other person's feelings by saying, You should not feel that way. All feelings of anger, disgust, jealously, despair, etc. are human and need to be expressed. Bottled up feelings that are uncomfortable will only serve to make the problem worse as resentment and bitterness increase.


* Show the other person that you really heard what he or she said. Repeat back what the other person just said. Say I heard that you said ______ and what I feel about that is __________. Listen for the feelings of hurt and threat behind their statements. Ask the other person for clarification if you do not understand what they are saying.


* Take turns talking. No monologues allowed. You should be able to make your point in less than a minute or two. Any longer turns into a lecture and You always or you should ____ which are blaming statements. Make sure the other person is listening. Only one person should speak at a time. Healthy conversation is like playing toss and catch. One person speaks and one person listens. Go back and forth with the conversational ball. Take turns talking.


* Stick to the topic. Do not bring in other sore issues. Agree to discuss the pertinent topic only saying, We are discussing______, not ________ Watch for ways you get off the track. Keep coming back to the issue under discussion.


* Stop using techniques that turn up the heat and move you both away from problem solving. Blaming, name calling, threatening, foul language and sarcasm decrease intimacy. Young children believe what they hear their parents saying. They are devastated when they overhear these forms of verbal abuse. These ways of communicating cut down on the possibility of your getting what you want out of the argument.


Take out blame statements and name calling. No problem is ever solved by telling the other person how bad they are. Name calling causes the person to revert back to their behavior and feelings they had as a little child when their parents scolded them. It either renders them helpless or makes them more angry. Name calling, criticism and blaming only perpetuate the problem.


Watch your use of cursing. Cursing adds negative energy to the confrontation placing the other person in danger of feeling shame. Cuss words are like waving a red flag at a bull and increase the heat of the argument. Know that your use of cuss works only shuts the other person down and that they feel the need to defend themselves further.


Do not make empty threats. Do not threaten to leave the relationship or order the other person to get out unless you really mean it. Threatening to break up the relationship only brings up more fear and defensiveness in the other person.


Stop using statements of sarcasm. Sarcasm is a learned habit of moving away from problem solving. Sarcasm is a form of dishonesty as you say one thing but mean another. It is a technique of distraction moving away from the issue at hand.


*Watch for ways you withdraw from the argument. Withdrawal from conflict is one of the most common reasons for causing a relationship to fail. Nothing is ever solved by leaving the issue hanging and both partners are left in feelings of hopelessness due to lack of closure.


The typical pattern is that men withdrawal and women push for more discussion. Another typical pattern is that women become compliant. They do not carry the topic through to closure but give up because feelings of helplessness and what's the use creep in.


* Schedule breathing breaks, or set a timer for every two or three minutes for a breathing break. During this time do not think of the argument and what you want to say. Think of being calm and relaxed. Say to yourself I respect my partner and his or her opinions. I respect myself and my opinions. When you start to become confused or upset, breathe deeply from your diaphragm to bring in more energy and stay centered.


*Watch your need to be right and win. Remember the quote from The Course In Miracles, Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy. Tell the other person what you do want. Remember that you won't always get it but you need to express what you feel is best for you. Keep coming back to what you want but be ready to compromise. Stand firm only on those decisions which compromise your integrity as a person.


*Offer compromises. Stop investing in winning and using power plays and figure out what is really important to you. Tell the other person what you will give up if they give up something of value to them. Keep the negotiation open. Stop every five minutes to sum up what you do agree on and note where the disagreements still lie.


Make notes if necessary. Remind yourself and your partner about the importance of fighting fairly. See how you respond and cope when you feel threatened.


* Observe your patterns of coping with conflict by becoming compliant, using blame or withdrawing. Observe how you go for the jugular vein of the other person in attempts to get your way. Note how you are willing to attack your partner's vulnerable areas and make the conscious choice to stop doing this. Challenge yourself to change your own pattern of dysfunctional communication. When you slip off into changing the topic, name calling, sarcasm, withdrawal or compliance, state it to you partner, Look, I found myself doing _____. Make a commitment to break the dysfunctional pattern and stick to the positive ways of communicating. Keep coming back to the topic. Bring conflict back to the expressing of feelings level and willingness to negotiate.


These are the basic rules for staying clean while you disagree with someone. Now go to your corners and come out fighting! Fair fighting only!


Hold practice sessions with your partner to learn these stick to the topic and fight fair rules. Practice on topics that are not highly emotionally involved for both of you. Focus on improving your communication style instead of trying to win fights. Remember you, like everyone else, have had years of practice in the ways of dysfunctional communication. Keep asking yourself, Do I want to increase intimacy with my partner or do I want to win? What do I really want? Put your energy into problem solving at all times. Put your energy into learning about yourself and your partner.


When the discussion is over, evaluate yourself on how you did. Don't be a critical judge about your performance. Remember that you are learning new ways of acting. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself credit for every time you remembered to fight fair. Make a contract with yourself on areas that you still need to change. Learning to fight fair is about self responsibility!


If you hear your parents speak through your voice when you are upset, you may be projecting your parents style of fighting on your mate. Projection is a style of slipping back into the past because of unresolved childhood issues. When you project, you confuse unresolved anger felt at your parents with your mate. There are techniques of hypnosis that can help you break projecting your anger at your parent on your current partner. If you have difficulty following these rules and your anger is highly irrational or so highly threatened by conflict that you avoid it at any costs, then you are operating out of the dictates of the unconscious mind. If applying these fair fighting techniques on your own does not work, then you may need some professional help to help you break old behavior patterns that stem from childhood.


Recent research shows that couples break up because they do not know how to resolve their differences through communication. Hostility only breeds more hostility. Venting the negative emotions may clear the air temporarily, but it does not solve the underlying problem and serves to make it worse. Backing away from the conflict and ignoring it only sends each partner into secretiveness, withdraw and isolation. The message becomes clear--the couple that fights together stays together happily only if they use the techniques of conflict resolution.


Becoming an observer of yourself during times of confrontation can give your realms of information about your defensiveness. Defensiveness is only a signal that you need to learn about how you protect yourself when you are threatened. You can learn about yourself and your patterns of coping with threat and ways to stay present and centered during disagreements. Bringing a problem to resolution and closure through continued discussion and compromise is an honorable acts it shows respect for the needs of both partners. Learning to fight fair and keep communication open can be an opportunity for growth for you as an individual and can increase the intimacy between you and your partner.


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it's not the change that's painful, it's the resistance to change that is painful



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The wife and I have a rule, qoinq back to the beqininq of our relationship, and consequently we've never had an arqument. Only one person is allowed to be upset at one time. It's more a less a "no fiqht" rule. If she comes home and is in a foul mood (never really happens), makes some kind of comment, I'll ask her if there is somethinq that I can do for her, and if she say no, then I qive her her space and visa versa. Most often, since codependents are emotionally emesshed, when one qets upset, the other jumps riqht in. In a mater of moments, a laundry list of faults and wronqs done, are flyinq around. Boy I don't miss those days. lol

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Dean


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Thanks for posting this.

I have had terrible trouble with this in the past.  When I was growing up we had yelling, screaming, smashing things constantly with my parents.  That was just at each other.  For us kids our mother referred to us as f.... little b...... constantly, along with lots of other lovely names.

I have never called my children names, although I have done some of the earlier things eg. yelling, screaming at my husband for his behaviours (not seeing mine was just as bad).  Thankfully I started going to al-anon meetings about 18 months ago.  We very rarely go into these full on fights and when I notice I'm being drawn in I quickly pull myself out of it.

It is very damaging for all persons involved.

Tracey


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Hi Tracey, and welcome to our new board. We're qlad that you are here.

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Dean


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Someone can argue with how I feel OR think . . . if they choose to do so.  For me, speaking up at all about how I feel or think is new.  Growing up I was not allowed to do so - my feeling or opinions were not validated or tolerated.  If I showed feelings I was weak and stupid.

What this created was a person who did not participate in fights - but ran away from them - permanently.  If things got even slightly uncomfortable - I was gone.  AND, it was all THEIR fault.  If they were expressing their feelings - especially fear - they were weak and stupid.

For me, before I could start having discussions that included "I" messages - I had to learn to identify my feelings and not think I was stupid or weak.  I needed to learn it wasn't automatically the other person's fault and eventually start taking my own inventory.  I had to learn that disagreements can happen and be resolved without running away.  So I am learning to have disagreements and it may seem silly, but it is really difficult.  Boy am I glad though - all this time I have been missing making up - and that sure is fun!

Linistea

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I'm new to the message board and am glad to be here. Thanks for posting this.

I have been in a relationship for 6 and 1/2 years, and since being in 12 step programmes with Al Anon and CODA, am beginning to learn how rubbish I am at conflict. I avoid it at all costs and bottle up all my frustration, anger, confusion, and find myself feeling more and more stuck. When I try and explain how I'm feeling I get tied up in knots and end up talking in absolutes, "you always, you never, I have to," and understandably it turns into a massive row with my partner and I screaming at each other, swearing, ranting, venting, stomping around, slamming doors. It feel really sad and lonely. I look back on my family history and am beginning to see how communication skills weren't really taught at home! It was a lot about sulking, blaming, feeling victimised, ranting, screaming, throwing things, and then leaving, my parents didn't resolve their issues with each other, my mum sulked and blamed and my dad screamed and raged. In my relationships I will do anything to avoid conflict, even when my partner asks me if there's something wrong, I tell him I'm fine as I don't know how to express anger, frustration, hurt, without blaming. I will hold the resentment for days, even when he knows there's something wrong, and then I can't hold it in any longer, and I cry, blame, criticise, rant, pontificate, blame a bit more, and throw in a few names just for good measure. I find setting boundaries with my partner really difficult, and retreat instead of being clear about what I feel and need. My partner and I don't fight fair, and end up doing so much damage when we row nothing gets resolved. I spend a lot of time pretending everything is ok, trying really hard "not to be co-dependent", and end up just not being present honestly and authentically in my relationship. I also think I confuse the doodabs out of my partner. We have the same row over and over again in the same way and the issues don't get resolved, we end up retreating from each other and then coming out of our respective caves and trying again, with the outcome being exactly the same. I would really like to be able to fight fairly.

I am going to practise saying the I feel statements out loud so that they start to feel easier to say. Does anyone else get a tight throat and can't breathe properly when they are trying to talk about how they feel?

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Freya



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Hello Freya and welcome to the board.

I absolutely know what you mean about expressing your feelings.  For me, I have to try to identify them first - and I don't do that well.  I am upset . . . but what is it?  Is it anger, sadness or ???  Then to speak it out loud is every difficult.  I run from disagreements as I was not allowed to have an opinion or express myself as a child, it was usually one sided (the parent) and would simply consist of me doing a duck and run to avoid the anger coming my direction.

I do remember one instance as a child - when I was 8 - I was caught shoplifting.  My grandfather took the switch to me.  My mom did nothing - but waited for her then bf to come home from jail to beat the tar out of me as punishment.  But my Dad - whom I did not live with - simply sat me down and had a talk with me.  I told me how he felt, his disappointment etc.  He made me understand what I had done wrong.  It was kind, loving, and had a HUGE impact on me.  I knew at 8 years old that things in the home that I lived in with my mother were VERY wrong and that my Dad had acted correctly.  Unfortunately at 9 years old we moved away from my father and my mother married that bf - and he made our lives miserable.  I moved away from my mother at 12 years old, having had enough.  I just spent the night with her the other night and it was the most time we had spent together alone since I was 12. 

It is truly amazing how our upbringing colors our lives - but it completely makes sense.  I suppose if you beat a puppy it will grow to be an extremely aggressive or cowaring dog.  I don't know why we expect ourselves to be any better at living if our upbringing doesn't teach us healthy, loving, open behaviors.  But we can learn and change.

Linistea



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Freya, my wife has never been in recovery, but she has read some John Bradshaw books (Healinq the shame, and Homecominq). He father was alcohoic, and mom, or course, a codependent. I had a lot of explaininq to do about my AA proqram, ACOA, and Coda. One concept we came up with is beinq able to express some of our feelinqs from an inner child perspective. Like, "when you do or say this, my little kid feels like this, and his/her perception is that you are doinq this______. I know it's probably not your intention, but it's probably triqqerinq some feelinqs from some unresolved incident".
It's worked really well for us, because no one has to qo on the defensive and the other person can see the missed perception.

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Dean


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Hi Linistea, thanks for your comments, it really helps just knowing that other people struggle with this too. I feel less stuck knowing that me struggling with this isn't because I'm deficient in any way, but because it was something I wasn't taught how to do. Thanks for your thoughts, they made a difference.

Hi Dean, I've actually copied out your way of communicating with your wife as I can see how difficult it would be to feel defensive if someone explained their feelings in that way. It feels so alien to me at the moment that I reckon I need to write out my feelings in that format and then read them out loud to myself till they feel easier to remember. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, it's really helped.

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Freya



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Wow -- communication and conflict resolution skills -- a topic near and dear to my heart.

I remember learning about using the "I feel" statements first in my marriage prep classes, and then in communication courses in university.

Lots of hurdles in actually using them, however.  Growing up in a home where my needs and feelings were completely discounted and invalidated (I can remember stubbing my toe on the coffee table and being angrily yelled at to "watch the table!", stuff like that), the first step for me was to develop an awareness of my feelings and needs before I could begin to articulate them.  When I did outpatient ACoA treatment in my 20's, I was so clueless about my own emotions that they had to start me with "mad, sad or glad" and work up to more finite descriptions from there.

Then there was the risk.  OMG, if I express something negative or ask for something on my own behalf, I'm facing the possibility of rejection or anger.  Eek.  Far easier to just stuff my feelings (after all, I was very skilled at that) and let the resentments build up.  Plus that fed my underlying desire for martyrdom; there was a certain satisfaction in being perpetually wounded.

And I wasn't picking partners who had any investment in fighting fair -- they just wanted to "win".  My early attempts at stating my feelings were met with invalidation and denial.  I heard "You have no right to feel that way" and "You shouldn't feel like that".  Or got total withdrawal: the silent treatment.  So I'd promptly doubt myself and back down.

I've come a long way.  But I'm having a hard time shaking my habit of employing absolutes; you'll often hear me pulling out "You always..." and "You never..." in a heated discussion.  And hearing "You should..." is a total hot button for me, guaranteed to get my blood boiling.  Gotta do some more work on those for sure!



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Ythannah, I can really relate to what you've shared here, I was told I was too sensitive if I cried or got upset. I can remember having a headache for two weeks and being told to "have a tomato" because they had vitamins in. confuse Turns out I had a migraine.  I can also remember sitting on the stairs crying and my parents  ignoring me for what seemed like an hour, then they came out of the lounge and stepped over me on their way upstairs.  The responses I got to expressing emotions were pretty brutal.  And if my dad was angry with me and threw me up the stairs I was told it was my fault for making him angry.  I learned to stuff my feelings and eventually went completely numb.  

 

I am like a baby learning to walk when it comes to feelings, and expressing them.  I have stopped being numb now due to the help of a really fantastic therapist, and the twelve step programmes I am in, but find myself completely overwhelmed by my feelings as there seems to be a pretty big backlog of unexpressed feelings all fighting to get out and get heard!

 

My partner and I are both in recovery and are like baby giraffes on new legs trying to communicate with each other without losing it! To minimise the rowing, we now have really short phone conversations to avoid falling into defensive patterns, and go on "dates" to coffee shops as my partner says he can talk to me in public and tell me how he feels cos he knows he won't lose it in front of the general public.  Now my partner is in recovery he's started saying things to me like, do you just need to lose it and be angry with me for a while till you figure out what it is you're pi**ed off with me for?  So he sits in one room and I go in another and say outloud how p****d off I am and what it is I think he's done to *make* me angry till I finally get past all the judgements and get to the feeling, and go something like "Oh, I'm upset because I felt really insecure and insignificant when you...."  Then he says something to me like, "this is the part where you need me to hug you isn't it?"  It's like figuring it all out between us because no-one taught us how to do it.  It takes ages and we're exhausted at the end, and sometimes we don't manage to hold it together and end up in a massive row, but I can see writing this that it's better than it used to be.  I hadn't realised that before writing this.  If it wasn't so tragic it would be hysterically funny...  Him in one room listening, me in another room ranting trying to figure it all out, and then the light bulb moment where i get what's bothering me and calm down and go in the other room to tell him...  Also, I find I can't breathe properly when I get angry, upset or frustrated about something and want to run away, and when I try to talk about how I'm feeling if it's a *negative* feeling, my throat tightens up and I start to get a rash.

 

Writing this out I can see how we're actually making progress, and although it's not perfection it's definitely progress.  In this minute writing this, I'm feeling very grateful.  Wow, I actually managed to recognise a feeling as I was feeling it, and told someone.  I'm made up with that.         



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Freya

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