I remember when I first discovered the idea of “fair fighting.” Growing up in a family where the siblings fought quite a lot, this idea made sense to me. Even as kids, there were rules: No pinching. No spitting. No hitting in the face. (Unfortunately, as the youngest, there wasn’t a rule about “fight with someone your own size.” But that’s another post.) Once I’d been in the world of adult relationships for awhile, I realized I needed a similar list for verbal altercations.
I don’t remember much about the first list I found. I think it talked about using “I statements.” So I did. I started saying, “I feel like you aren’t listening to me!” Or, “I feel like we’re not connected.” Or, when I was really mad, “I feel like you’re a thoughtless, inconsiderate jerk. But it’s just how I feel…” I didn’t understand why this didn’t seem to help much in resolving issues with my partner. I decided it was probably her fault.
There was another part of the list that talked about calmly saying back exactly what I heard my partner say, to carefully paraphrase it until she felt heard. That seemed like a really good idea. I tried it a few times (in my biz it’s called “reflective listening”), but found that, as soon as I felt upset, I had no interest in tracking, remembering, or talking calmly. I decided there was something wrong with me. I tried harder. I still couldn’t do it. Finally, I wondered if it made any sense at all.
Eventually I discovered that “fair fighting” doesn’t go far enough. When I see couples or talk with people, I get the sense that they know they’re supposed to fight, but that fighting has inevitably led to power struggles, impasses, and deadlocks. The frustration just isn’t worth it. So they give up, and “go along to get along.” Until they’re fed up.
So, what’s the alternative? For the next few posts, I’ll tell you what I’ve found to be the absolute keys to communicating consciously, that is, in the way that will allow connection, flow, and both people to express themselves by getting what they really want.