Pick And Choose Your Fights
By Frank Kermit
Fighting in relationships is normal. The issue is not whether you fight. The issue is HOW a couple fights. Do they talk out their disagreements? Do they wait until they are alone together, or fight in front of others? Do they resort to name calling and screaming for even the most trivial things? Do they throw furniture at each other? Or, do they not fight at all, fearful of the potential consequences (real or imaginary) and let their anger simmer until it turns into blinding resentment, possibly erupting in a massive rage outburst. It is not even a question of finding ways not to fight. The focus is on helping people understand to pick and choose their fights in a relationship.
This Frank Rule of Relationships, to pick and choose your fights, is also a great Calibration tool. Knowing how to screen if a fight is worth the effort, or if a fight is a waste of your time, can help smooth things along for long-term relationship success.
It is important to judge who you are fighting with. Is the person you are about to engage with someone that is toxic (meaning the person lacks the capacity to reason or be reasonable)? Then your attempts to argue with such a person are futile.
For example, an addict that is in the throws of withdrawal and desperately demanding money from you to feed the addiction is not in a reasonable state of mind where your attempts of talking to him or her out of it, will most likely not be affective. Even therapists try to arrange their sessions with addicts to happen at a time when the addict would be most receptive to talking.
It is also important to be able to access your own ability to manage an unpleasant discussion that can easily turned heated. Know thy self, dear reader. If you can estimate that you would be unable to properly and maturely discuss a matter at a given moment, arrange with your partner to be able to talk about it at a later time, when you have had the chance to cool down and can be in a more rational and accepting frame of mind.
In picking and choosing your fights, it is not about going to either extreme of always fighting with people about everything, or never fighting with anyone regardless of what they do to you. It is about being able to decipher when it is worth the time and effort to express yourself, when it is necessary to communicate a consequence that you will enact based on your reaction to others, and when you shouldn't even bother trying at all.
If you zealously argue for every inconvenience you suffer, regardless of how important it is or isn't, you will likely lose credibility in the eyes of those you regularly communicate too. It can also very likely isolate you as few people want to be around the professional protestor, who usually do not understand that fighting about the political climate you are living in does not mandate the same reaction as your toast being under-toasted at the breakfast you ordered at the local greasy spoon.
When you do pick the fight that you think is worth it, and assuming you are dealing with a reasonable person, and assuming that you are in a good frame of mind, make the distinction between expressing your issue, and issuing a consequence to the issue.
When you express the issue that you are willing to fight about (it could be a boundary, a need of yours, or a manner in which you expect to be treated) it is important to simply state the issue.
For example, when a cashier is spending time on the phone instead of doing her job, expressing your issue when you pick this fight may sound something like: "Excuse me miss, when I come to the cash register, I would appreciate that you get off the phone with your friend, and do your job." Here you are not resorting to name-calling, screaming, or threats. You are directly, calmly and clearly stating your issue when picking this fight. If the cashier is actually a reasonable person, she will realize the importance of your expression, and will follow through to accommodate you. If the cashier is a reasonable person having an unreasonable moment (or maybe she is just toxic after all), she may try to justify her position or try to attack your position as in: "This will only be a minute, are you that much in a hurry?"
It is at THIS point, that you would go from expressing your issue to enforcing your issue by stating a consequence, which could sound something like this: "Miss, if you do not end that call and do your job right now, then I will have to take up this matter with your manager, who I am sure will not be as open to your pressing call."
The key is that you do not mention the consequence until after you have given the person a chance to wake up, for what could be just a bad day for them.
Conflict is never a pleasant situation. However, it is a part of life, and your ability to pick and choose your fights will help determine your ability to manage your long-term relationship success. You do not have a choice when it comes to what people may try to put you through, but you do have a choice to how charismatic you can try to be when it happens.
FRANK KERMIT MA
EXPERT RELATIONSHIP COACH
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