When couples fight, the need to be right can easily distracts us from the damage that insistence does to our relationship. Unfortunately we really have to chose who is going to win, you or your relationship.
Most folks come upon it honestly. In childhood we need to build up a reserve of experiences where we were heard and understood. We need to have had enough chances to be right. Good enough childhoods offer us a well filled with enough trust in which we will be seen and known, we can better tolerate experiences of someone not understanding our point of view, our feelings, or where we are coming from.
If our childhoods didn’t offer us that reserve of trust, we can end up so fixated on winning a fight, on being “the right one”, we are literally willing to destroy our relationship in the process. If we are lucky, our partner doesn’t share our same deficit. Because in truth, there is rarely a “right one” in an argument. Usually both people hold some rightness and some wrongness. Most of the time both people are going to have some apologizing to do. And of course both people need to be heard/ seen/ known / understood/ validated/ acknowledged. The best way to get those things? To offer them first.
Some Tips to Being Heard in a Couples Fight:
1) Take a deep breath and remember to be heard, first you must be willing to hear the other.
2) It is okay to hear your partner’s point, to understand their injury/ feelings/ perspective, and to reflect back to them validation of the relevance of their points. There are no shortages of truths. They can have rightness and you can have rightness. Acknowledge their rightness fully and first.
3) Don’t worry about their wrongness yet. Offer up your most important truths first…the things you most need to have heard…rather than using your first “turn” to dispute any of their positions. The more you can focus on your needs without touching their tender spots, or trying to “win”, the more likely you will be heard.
4) While you should limit the length of a fight,and take breaks when anyone is needing them, every fight needs a few rounds, and every round should include some apologies, from both sides, about all the ways you didn’t hear or appreciate the other. This gives nothing away. It doesn’t mean they were right and you were wrong; you were both right and wrong in several ways.
5) Every time you find yourself getting defensive, take a deep breath, or a break, and re-group. Defenses were built to protect us from situations we hopefully are no longer in. Remember your goal; let your relationship matter to you more than your need to be right.
Last, I would say, spend some time taking care of the little kid in you who still needs to be heard, right, and validated. Grieve the loss of the childhood that could have filled your well with trust, so you can begin the journey of building experiences where you can rely on in the years to come.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
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Author Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.