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All couples experience conflict from time to time, despite their best intentions to efficiently and calmly resolve differences. There are times both partners feel the need to dig in and firmly defend their position. However, tactics taken during these times often leave more battle scars than feelings of love and affection. Whether we call this a fight, an argument, a discussion, or some other name, it is important some rules be established to ensure fairness and respect.
As law enforcement officers, you are trained and practiced in verbal and physical conflict. You become skilled at taking control and maintaining the upper hand and, when your safety is threatened, are taught to decisively end a fight and come out on top. A primary goal of the LEO's training is to make a decisive response second nature. Unfortunately, what works well on the job too often becomes second nature at home. While establishing dominance on a tough call is valuable, it is very destructive to a personal life. So, the way we teach others to fight fairly, lovingly, and supportively, we have borrowed from the sport of boxing!
When boxers come out of their respective corners, they are mentally jacked up for a fight they for trained diligently. They want their opponent to suffer and to go down hard. In order to win, boxers train by going to the gym for strength training, cardio, and sparring. They are preparing their bodies to withstand any punch, no matter how hard, and still remain standing at the end. They are also learning how to out fight their opponent to leave him battered, bruised, or even unconscious. Fighters skilled in the knockout punch become legendary. However, when people approach conflict in a relationship much like a boxer, what becomes emotionally battered and bruised is the person you vowed to love. If this becomes the legendary way you disagree, one person, over time, may decide the only healthy option is to leave the relationship in order to preserve any sense of dignity, respect, and self-esteem. So how do you engage in constructive conflict? By establishing and following pre-fight instructions.
Let's have a clean fight out there
It is common for our logic to fly out the window and to succumb to emotions when we are frustrated or angry, and it is not uncommon for smart people to do stupid things. Emotions can bring out the worst in us, which is why repetitive training methods are used to teach survival skills. When we repeat the same behavior over and over again, it becomes automatic and requires no thought. This is often what we do when we are faced with conflict with someone we love. However, instead of choosing survival tactics that keep the relationship alive, we often choose repetitive behaviors that are second nature such as sarcasm, criticism, yelling, and intimidation to win fights. Resorting to these behaviors can bring the death of intimacy, free-flowing communication, and possibly so much pain that one or both partners choose to end the relationship.
Instead, learn survival skills in conflict that are fair and clean. The first skill to commit to is to not allow anger, frustration, or irritability to be in control of your words, actions, and motivation. Choose your words with love and respect to build your partner up, rather than tear them down. Another skill in having a clean fight is to only discuss one issue at a time. Avoid overwhelming your spouse with varied and diverse issues that have nothing to do with the original topic. Bringing up other issues is a manipulation technique to deflect and confuse the topic. Third, seek to resolve the conflict rather than dominate your partner. Establishing dominance is often an appropriate tactical and survival skill on the job, but creates imbalanced relationships. Rather than trying to win the fight, increase your objectivity in order to find resolution where both people walk away from the conflict feeling there is a solution that works for both of you.
No hitting below the belt
In any conflict, and particularly in one with your partner, it is likely feelings may become raw and tender. Remain aware of where you both are emotionally and take steps not to abuse the power you have to hurt each other. Never attack your partner's vulnerabilities, fears, weaknesses, or insecurities. It is not only unfair, it is cruel. Avoid blaming or accusatory remarks, sarcasm, intimidation, or the threat of physical or emotional punishment. Instead seek to build up and support your partner, especially during conflict which may result in great rewards of emotional intimacy, trust, and an improved sex life together. Hitting below the belt may be necessary on the street to stay alive; however, in the home it creates an unsafe and tense environment. Be extremely alert to tactics that hit below the belt because the only purpose in using these tactics is to emotionally harm your partner. When you love someone you commit to being a safe person for them who treats them with respect and care, even when you are angry with them. Your household and relationship will thrive if you begin to take responsibility for being supportive, nurturing, and encouraging.
Break cleanly from the clinch
Generally, in all couples there is one person who likes to resolve conflict right now and another person who needs time away to process their emotions and words. In this situation it is appropriate to respect the more conservative tolerance level. The person who is focused on the right now can learn to slow down and come back to a situation later, but the person who needs time away cannot speed up how their brain processes information. When one or both partners requests that the discussion cease in the moment, allow your partner to walk away. However, if you are the person who needs time, make sure you come back to that person in a fair amount of time so that you can begin resolving the issue.
Also learn to break away as soon as voices are raised or yelling, you feel your body becoming tense, responses are argumentative or defensive, or harsh words are filtering into the conversation. Take time out from the issue since emotions are overriding cognitive thought processes. Nothing productive will result during a time when you are heated. The only thing you will accomplish is hurting someone you love.
Now tap gloves and come out fighting
Learning to respect your partner during conflict is an advanced skill but one that can become natural and automatic when you commit to loving and respecting them in all you say and do. Some simple steps to take are to avoid destructive behaviors such as sarcasm, insults, and harsh words. Instead of thinking about what your partner needs to hear from you, focus on what they are saying to you. Listen more than you speak and ask lots of questions to clarify. Use only positive statements that build one another up. Instead of coming to each other with the problem or a compliant, find the solution first and present that to your partner. Focus on what will work. Also avoid the word you in an accusatory manner; it places blame on the other person, instead take responsibility for your reactions.
Tapping gloves is a sign of acknowledgement and respect in the ring despite the fact a fight is about to take place. Commit to respecting each other while never shying away from necessary conflict. Your relationships depend on it.