Research shows it’s not the fight that hurts the relationship…It’s how you fight that determines lasting effects

According to The New York Times Magazine, April 18, 2010, in an article that ponders the question, “Is marriage good for your health?” surprising studies show that people who fight are not in danger.  The research shows it’s not the fight that determines whether the marriage is good for you and your partner. It doesn’t matter how difficult the argument or how angry the fight, what matters is whether the people fighting stay connected.  That’s right, you have to tell you partner right in the middle of a fight that you still love them.  You have to find a way to grab their hand or call him or her a pet name, and you have to do this right in the middle of the argument or fight.

If you can do this you will have a happy heart and not suffer from stress.  When we argue without connection to our partner we put stress on our hearts and other parts of our body.  We get all keyed up and mad, sometimes we even get hateful.  The key, according to research, is to find a way to make a connection with the person we are fighting with, during the argument. 

Usually couples will have it out with each other and then they’ll have to wait until all the energy inside them dies down so they can talk to each other again, talk about what happened and start some sort of repair process to reconnect.  Research shows  us that if you can find a way to get out of the anger for just a second and make an overture to your partner, a small gesture or a couple of loving words are all that’s needed, you will keep yourself from getting into that mad zone that takes so long to come back from.

Going there, the mad place, and staying there, is one of the most harmful things you can do to your body.  Your body is now dealing with enormous amounts of energy.  It’s all stored up inside each of you and it has to go somewhere.  Maybe some of it get’s released through loud words said to each other, but chances are if you are yelling at the other person you are pretty amped up and those feelings are going to take some time to dissipate.  It’s this period that has the most negative impact on your body; elevated stress hormones, elevated risk of diabetes, elevated risk of heart disease, immune system weakens, increased risk of depression, nasty stuff to keep inside yourself.

Why not think of this now, before the next blow up. Talk with your partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend and discuss the damage you each are doing to yourselves when you get in prolonged arguments.  Gain an understanding of the toxicity that fighting without connecting can produce.

Maybe you can come up with your special way of connecting before the argument begins.  Why not create a safe word or a funny phrase, a physical gesture or make a silly face.  Anything will work, as long as it brings the two of you close.  The idea isn’t to end the argument or fight.  The technique is designed to give the two of you a place away from the war zone.  It doesn’t even have to last a long time.  It just has to last a moment.  If you can do this the research says you will be served by your relationship, instead of it feeling like a weight.

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Talking About the Fights

Couples looking for ways to improve their relationships often come to counseling by bringing in the latest fight or argument as evidence of the difficulty.  I listen to the stories of what was said and what actions people take after the arguments.  I sense the hurt feelings and the sadness that accompanies these fights.  Sometimes there are tears.  Almost all the time there is anguish and disappointment.

It’s hard to think that these feelings would be appropriate considering the circumstances, but they are.  It’s hard to talk about what doesn’t work.  It’s hard to bring up the stuff that makes both people feel bad.  But without a roadmap I can’t see what needs repair.  I have to get a three dimensional view of the communications between couples.  Often, it’s not what is being said that reveals the truth.

What I’m really looking for is what people are feeling.  The feelings are the clues that help me understand what isn’t being expressed.  It’s usually the unexpressed thoughts, feelings and desires that holds the key to the difficulty.  It feels bad to fight with the person you love.  No one feels good about it.

Often the fights are just the mechanism to get what we need.  If we feel alone, neglected or taken advantaged of in the relationship, if we are not aware of the feelings that are associated with those states we might just lash out against our mate when we feel them.  If we feel pushed beyond our limit we might snap because we are just too overwhelmed.  Maybe we are just tired of not being understood. These circumstances don’t feel good.  No one wants to stay in them.  One way to change the way we feel is to complain, criticize, stay silent or yell.  All these actions will change the energy between you and your partner.

You may get what you want short term, but if these are your methods to get your needs met you are probably exhausted.  Your life is probably hard and you are tired a lot.  I want you to get your needs met.  I want both partners to be happy and content in a relationship.  I also know there are peaceful ways to accomplish this, and that’s what I get to help couples learn.

Sometimes couples feel that a perfect relationship doesn’t have any fighting.  I’ve worked with a lot of couples, and I’ve been around a lot of couples as most of us have in our lives.  Can you recall any couple that has a perfect relationship?  I can’t.  I’m not saying get used to the difficulty.  I want you to be difficulty free.  What I am saying is learn how to be easy with each other.  Learn how to understand your partner and help him or her be happy.  Learn what makes you happy.  Get good at asking for what you want.  When you are happy, your partner will be happy.  Happiness is a funny thing, it multiplies.

I talked to a lady recently that I had worked with a few months ago and she tells me she and her husband are doing great.  I asked her how she accomplished this.  She said she just stopped expecting things to be a certain way, and accepted life as it comes.  She also said she was starting to take care of herself and do things for herself, and that’s made her happier too.  It sounded so simple when she spoke.  I know she worked hard to get where she is, and she feels good, in fact, better than ever.

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Why We Suffer

Sometimes when life is too good we wonder if we really deserve it.  If we are used to living a life of struggle this thought might occur to us. You probably believe that you really want to be happy, but your experiences show you that happiness is not possible; your history reveals more experiences of struggle and suffering.

The things we want most; happiness, freedom, ease, all seem to get pushed aside for the more familiar feeling of suffering.  We don’t do this on purpose.  We do this out of habit.

So how do we learn to accept the good in our lives?  How do we find a way to just receive the happiness, freedom and ease that has eluded us all these years?

We start by noticing. Notice when you feel the good stuff. Notice when you feel the other, the struggle and the difficulty.  Notice what is happening in your body.  If you are in a good place chances are you are feeling light and full.  If you are
suffering or in a bad place you might use words like dark or negative, or phrases like, “It feels as if I’m under a dark cloud.”

When we notice these things about ourselves we are gaining awareness.  So why is awareness important?  Because we ultimately want to understand ourselves so we can notice how often we go into the dark place and how seldom we allow the good place in.

Sometimes it feels like things just happen to us, and they do.  But we can begin to understand how we react to things when they happen and begin to become aware of how we automatically, unconsciously play out the same old reaction.

Do we tense up when we feel threatened, angry or in danger?  Do we relax when we feel safe?  These are good things to learn about you.  Once you understand your own reaction to situations then you can begin to explore your patterns.  You might learn that you tense up when you feel unsafe and you freeze.  This is good to know because when you understand your reaction you may want to try something else to see what could happen.  Maybe you want to have a conversation with yourself and ask, “What am I afraid of?  Is there really danger or am I just following a pattern?”  If you observe there is
nothing to be afraid of maybe you can tell yourself the next time, “I am going to (take the action) because there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Many people want to make changes in their lives.  They want to be happy and peaceful.  The first step starts with you observing and understanding you.  Once you become an expert on your patterns and reactions to life you will be able to make the right changes for you. 

How do you know what the right change will be?  You already know.  When the right changes occur, you feel good; your body feels in alignment with the rest of you.  That’s how you know you have made the right decision for you.  Take a moment to understand what good feels like in your body.  Then when you feel it you will know. The right answer and action will send all the right messages to your body.  To know this about yourself you have to study yourself.

But isn’t that something you do already?  Don’t you know more about yourself than anyone?  Why not take the next step for you by taking a stand and telling yourself this, “I want to live a life free from suffering, and I’m willing to learn more about myself in order to do that.”

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