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When To Fight And When To Let Go

Young couple silhouetted - Oakland Therapist EMDR Therapist

In relationships it can be hard to know when to stand up for what we need, and when to surrender.

Long-term committed relationships only work if we accept our partners for who they are, but they also only work if both people are willing to bend for one another. Where is the line? When do your expectations become unreasonable? Even if they are reasonable, how useful is it to fight over them not being met?

Too much righteous fighting can lead to a climate of hostility, reactivity and blaming; too much letting go can mean dealing with constant hurt, neglect and disappointment.

So the next time you want to pick a fight with your partner, STOP, and ask yourself the following six questions about the provocation:

(1) Am I having a bad day? We all do sometimes, and it can be hard not to get cranky with your loved ones for doing something you would normally tolerate. If you’re in a bad mood, try to pause before lashing out. Ask for support, do something to soothe yourself, or take space. At the very least, warn them that you’re grouchy so that they’ll be less likely to take your lashings personally.

(2) Is it really that important? You might want your partner to always fold the laundry as soon as it’s finished drying or HATE it when they leave crusted food on the dishes they’re supposedly “washing”. Legitimate grievances, perhaps, but probably not worth fighting over—especially if you’re looking for ways to reduce conflict. If you can’t let it go, consider examining why, and then, if you must, try to expressing your “concern” in the form of a polite request. Criticism erodes partnership slowly but surely.

(3) Is this about something else? You may feel angry at your partner for staying out later than they said they would, but could this just be an easy target, one that feels “justifiable”? Perhaps you are actually angry because you didn’t fully heal from the infidelity a year ago or you’re upset at something hurtful they said last week. So many fights in relationships are proxy wars, and unless you bring consciousness to that, they are likely to go unresolved.

(4) Is this “my stuff”? We all come into relationships spring-loaded to react in habitual ways to habitual triggers. If you think your partner is doing something to you, pause to consider what your history is with this particular issue before your met your partner. Ii there a pattern? It’s normal to be sensitized to certain behaviors and dynamics because of past experiences, and it’s important to be aware enough of them to know when it’s inappropriate to blame your partner for it.

(5) What’s going on for my partner right now? Are they stressed out? Having a bad day themselves? Are they going through a temporary period in which, for whatever reason, they can’t meet some of my needs? It’s important to keep in mind you partner’s mental and emotional state and remind yourself of any extenuating circumstances.

(6) Is this about my core needs? If your answer to (2) was “Yes”, then ask yourself what need of yours isn’t getting met. Is it your need to feel loved? For your partner to “have your back”? To be part of a team or shared vision? For your partner to be more integrated into your social and family life? For more sexual intimacy?

Core needs are dealbreakers in relationships. If they aren’t being met, then the relationship needs to be worked on, renegotiated, opened up, or ended. Knowing which core need a particular fight is connected to will help you speak more directly about what’s happening and speak in I-statements, which will dramatically reduce the chances of the conversation escalating into useless attacks and counterattacks.

Sometimes partners need to investigate what their needs are on their own, or assistance with learning how best to ask for them given the particulars of the relationship.

I would love to hear your thoughts about other ways to manage this in-the-moment decision! Share your comments below.

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