I really like bumper stickers. It takes a great deal of creativity to be able to say something so succinctly that it can fit on a scrap of paper stuck to the back of your car. They all tell a story. The COEXIST stickers that call for acceptance and peace among religions tell the viewer that the person who bought values tolerance; names of politicians with either a positive or a negative statement about the person inform others of exactly what the driver believes. They are a way to communicate very complex thoughts very quickly. I like to use this idea with my clients; sometimes it’s easier to remember a simple, trite phrase than the complex details and specifics that we talk about in session. One of my favorite “bumper stickers” is the title of this post: “Fight like you love each other.”
What does this mean? Simply put, it means treat your partner with respect, honor, and humility; even in conflict. It can be difficult, and I have had clients look at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears when I explain this. Ultimately it comes down to another great “bumper sticker,” this one courtesy of Dr. John Gottman: “Would you rather be right, or married?” In other words, don’t let your desire to win the confrontation overshadow your desire to build up your partner.
This is a very easy trap to fall into, because generally speaking we don’t like to lose. The issue is, of course, that if there is a “winner” in a relationship conflict then there is also a “loser;” and if there is a “loser,” then the whole relationship suffers.
This is where “Fight like you love each other” comes in. Approaching conflict with an attitude of love and respect for each other is a sure way to come out of the conflict victorious. It requires a change of mindset though. Here are a few tips on how to fight like you love each other:
1. Set some ground rules
Often, when couples come into my office they are fighting in a no-holds-barred brawl style. Name-calling, shaming, criticism, and contempt spewing forth from both parties. So the first thing I teach them is to set ground rules for fights. No name-calling, no eye-rolling, no shaming is a good place to start. Have a conversation with your partner (not during a fight) about what ground rules you would like to set for conflict.
2. Remember who you’re talking to
When you started dating, your partner may as well have hung the moon. You loved them so much that you thought that spending the rest of your life with them was worth the cost of a wedding! Now you’re fighting all the time, and they are the biggest jerk on the planet. It is very easy to get hurt by the ones we love, and it is very easy to resent them for hurting us. When you let resentment replace love for your partner, then the relationship suffocates. This is still the person you love, so approach them that way and the conflicts will follow you into a loving attitude.
3. Choose to love them
This one sounds hokey, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Not everyone is the perfect partner all the time. When yours isn’t, it’s up to you to choose to love them anyway. Give them respect, honor, and (as much as you can muster) trust. Your partner will hurt you, and you will hurt your partner. When that happens, choosing to love them despite the hurt tells them that you can accept them no matter what. Universal acceptance is the soil in which honest discussion grows.
These are just a few examples of ways to approach conflict with a loving attitude as opposed to win-seeking. Obviously there are many more, and the things which work for one relationship may not necessarily work for another. I also believe that it is important to articulate that this is for healthy conflict. Sometime in the future there will likely be a post on unhealthy conflicts.
What are your thoughts? Have you had an experience where you have fought with a loving attitude? What are some good “bumper stickers” that help you remember important things?