Have you and your partner ever had an argument over seemingly unimportant details?
An argument over whether you wanted the small or large size coffee can turn into a he-said, she-said battle with hurt feelings on both sides.
Is the size of a cup of coffee really the issue? Of course not.
But what is the real issue?
The issue is the style of communication you use when conveying thoughts and feelings to your partner. Arguing over the size of a coffee is a style of “right fighting,” which has deep roots. It’s a problem of process and content, which we’ll unfold here.
When one partner digs in their heels and says, “You asked for the small size,” but the other partner digs in too and says, “No, I asked for the large coffee,” you are both unintentionally sending the wrong message.
You’re really telling each other that the content is more important than the process. Another way of stating this is: the details matter more to you than the way you share your opinion, which may hurt your partner.
We all have blind spots in our relationships that tend to cause painful ruptures. The style of “right fighting” is based on blind spots rooted in childhood. When you grasp understanding about why you insist on being right, you can gain insight into your relationship issues.
If you want to be seen as “right” in your relationship, it’s probably because you felt unseen by your parents when you were younger.
Your parents may have devalued your thoughts and opinions in the past. For example, if you said, “I’m cold,” a healthy parent would have said, “I see, you feel cold. Let’s get you a blanket,” whether they felt cold themselves or not.
But let’s say you received a response like this from your parent: “It’s not cold in here. You’re just imagining it.” You may have felt like your opinion didn’t matter, and therefore YOU didn’t matter.
The more often you were invalidated as a child, the less valuable you may feel today. You may feel you must prove your validity and worth to your partner now, in arguments over minor details. That’s what drives you to say, “No, I ordered the LARGE coffee!”
You and your partner were likely drawn to each other due to similar childhood wounds. That can land you in the he-said, she-said cycle again and again.
However, you can heal from old wounds and improve your relationship issues by working on better process and conflict resolution during discussions. Here are several techniques to use for improvement.
To Heal, Be a Healer
You were drawn to your partner because the brilliant psyche (soul/unconscious mind) of both of you longed to be healed from your old wounds and knew your partner was capable. If you focus on being a healing agent in your partner’s life, you can begin to repair your relationship ruptures.
Move forward by actively listening to your partner and validating their response. You don’t have to agree, but you can affirm them by saying something like: “You heard me say that I wanted the small coffee.” In this way, you honor your partner by listening to their story with compassion and respect.
In time, your partner will feel safer with you. When your partner feels safe, they will be able to offer you healing, too. When you initiate healthier process and content, you put a new relationship dynamic into play. Both of you will enjoy the benefits.
Process First, Content Second
Before you speak, remind yourself that your relationship takes priority over being right.
By taking this stance, you affirm your partner’s worth. You tell them you are interested in their thoughts and ideas. You let them know you will listen without interruption, correction, or judgment. They will feel respected and loved, and they will be more open to you.
For minor arguments, you can say, “I probably misheard you, and it’s no big deal. We can fix this.” When you let go of being right, you communicate that the process matters more than the content, and your relationship takes top priority.
For bigger arguments over issues like parenting or money, it’s crucial to understand that your partner may come from a different perspective that is no less valid than yours. Different perspectives are positive. They help you find solutions that you may not have discovered on your own. You probably chose your partner because they were different from you. That’s not a bad thing.
By staying open and curious to your partner’s ideas, you affirm their opinions. Your partner will be more likely to return the favor to you, and your relationship issues will be healed.
Timing Is Everything
When you need to have an important discussion with your partner, the timing matters more than you think.
We respond best to each other when we aren’t in a transition time. Transition times are predictable times of day when our brains are switching from one activity to another. Common transition times include when we:
- Wake up
- Leave in the morning
- Come home from work or school
- Go to bed
Recall the last few arguments with your partner. Did any of them occur during these transition times? It’s likely that a transition time played a role in triggering at least one of your recent arguments.
You’re not at your best when you are tired or focused on getting out the door on time. Neither are you at your best at the end of a long day. You or your partner may be unexpectedly set off by a small trigger in those times. Save the bigger discussions for when you both are calm, relaxed, and not distracted by other tasks.
Another element to keep in mind is the content itself. Let’s say you have been thinking a long time about wanting to buy a new car, but you haven’t yet discussed it with your partner. You set yourself up for disappointment if you spring this discussion on your partner during a transition time.
Also, if your partner has not had time to think through the content of your discussion, it may be unreasonable to expect a productive conversation right away, even if your timing for the discussion is good. Your partner may need more time to think through the content first and get back to you after processing the content. It’s important to give your partner space and time to think it through, as this increases mutual respect.
You can have hope for improving your relationship issues by offering healing to your partner, prioritizing your relationship over being right, and practicing good timing for important discussions. A better process and content plan will help you find greater relationship satisfaction.
Remember that it is not so much what you say as how you say it. Tip: Soft eyes, voice, and face replacing hard eyes, voice, and face.