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Couple's Net

By Chandrama Anderson

E-mail Chandrama Anderson

About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Go Ahead, Have a Fight

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2013
Many disagreements come about because we don't understand our partner's intention, and s/he does not anticipate the impact that action or behavior will have on me. We have to remember that s/he did not grow up in our family, and s/he is not going to act "right" [meaning the way we expect or want at times. We start other fights because we're tired or stressed out. Sometimes we just want to 'zing' our partner.

What happens next is that within 1/200th of a second, one or both of us goes to the basic stance of fight, flight or freeze (as our brains are wired to do). This is why our species still exists on the planet; so in the big picture, this is a useful trait. In our household, it's a stressful trait, but has a place for healthy boundaries and so on.

If we can understand this, we can take a step back and not take it so personally. We can make an effort to s l o w t h i n g s d o w n.

To have a healthy disagreement:
1. Be sure it's only verbal (just say no to name calling). People have differing reactions to yelling (see previous paragraph about the family we grew up in). If we want to be heard, we have to figure out how to do that. Yelling might not help.
2. Make sure that for each of these poor interactions to have five good ones (per Dr. John Gottman's extensive research, this is the magic ratio for stable couples; some negativity is required within a couple).
3. When we do this in front of our kids, make sure to do part of our making up in front of our kids.
4. We're human, people disagree, maybe we had a bad day; our perspectives will differ on certain topics.
5. Oh, now make a repair, and get on with life.

Try any of these phrases to attempt repair:
"That didn't go very well, can we try again."
"I wasn't listening, would you tell me again."
"I got defensive. Give me a minute, and I'll try to see it from your perspective."

I'm guessing you had an intention and I was having an impact, so I don't know what your intention was. Would you tell me your intention?"

If you want to read a great book about intention and impact (and other important topics), check out "Difficult Conversations," it's written by Stone, Patton and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Team.

Comments

Posted by Martha, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 3:39 pm

How can I respond to my boyfriend who things that we should never get in fights about anything? I have always known that he's a conflict avoider and physically disappears when we fight. Recently, however, he told me that his opinion is that a good relationship is one where there are no fights, and our once a month fight (which is exaggerated and over little things) is too much for him to handle.


Posted by Chandrama Anderson, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Chandrama Anderson is a registered user.

We are all wired to long for connection. Your boyfriend longs for connection when he doesn't want to fight. You long for connection when you want to have a fight and work through a few things. You can look to your families to see where your comfort levels come from.

Since both of you seek connection, start there. Show him this blog, and let him know you care about him, and that a disagreement can be healthy, as long as you handle it in a healthy way.

Think about how you fight. Are you kind, or not, even in a fight?

I suggest you say, "When this happens, I feel _____. I wish _______. My part in this is ______. I'm going to work on my part by experimenting with ______."

I hope you stay away from making you statements (you did this, you said that, you make me ______" and so on).

Take responsibility to have a fight bring more intimacy and understanding into your relationship (as opposed to flogging and berating).

Boyfriend: There are going to be a few disagreements in life. You are going to have to face your anxiety about it. Let yourself grow from it. If your girlfriend is abusing you, that's a completely different situation and you have to figure out what you're doing in the relationship.


Posted by Martha, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Oct 22, 2013 at 1:46 am

Thank you, Chandrama, for this very helpful framework. I really need to think about how to handle things in the future. For sure the way we handle things we've learned growing up.


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