The good fight: sharing angry feelings effectively
“Good fighting” requires patience, practice and promises, but it can turn conflict and anger into better understanding and inevitably bring people closer.
Special to The Seattle Times
Having a “good fight” can turn a conflict and the resulting anger into better understanding and can bring those arguing closer together.
Conflict is present in all sorts of relationships — between spouses, parents and kids, and people at work, as well as in the larger world. It is painfully obvious that conflict can lead to anger.
Dealing effectively with conflict and anger is a necessary task of life, and how we deal with them makes a big difference. When we feel conflict and express anger in an aggressive or intimidating way, it makes the conflict worse because the likelihood for misunderstanding is greater.
Finding constructive ways for expressing anger is more time consuming and challenging, but these strategies lead to better understanding and can possibly help persuade others of your point of view.
Fighting is one way to express conflict. But fighting can be uncomfortable. It can feel aggressive and scary. Learning how to argue — expressing your anger and conflict verbally — can help you and the other person feel safe enough to fight. This is the kind of fighting that brings people together.
Letting someone know you’re angry is a way to get them to understand. But how you let the other person know you’re angry makes all the difference.
There is such a thing as “good fighting.” It requires patience, practice and promise — the patience and practice to establish ground rules and stick to them, and the promise to keep the fighting safe enough for each person to reveal charged feelings.
First, at a time when you’re getting along, establish a few ground rules: Agree to keep it simple — tell the other person what’s bothering you in the least complicated, most straightforward way you can. Try to stick to one thing at a time, and don’t overgeneralize by saying things like “you never” or “you always.”
Better still, stick to your feelings, not what the other person “is” or what you think they feel.
Agree that it’s OK to talk about what’s made you angry after you’ve thought about it for a while, not necessarily right away when you feel furious. Think about this as “striking while the iron’s cold.” This strategy limits the risk of yelling, never a good idea when trying to work things out.
Also, everybody should be allowed to change his or her mind. In an argument, people need to have time to realize: “Now that I’ve thought about it more, I didn’t mean what I said.”
A relationship that encourages us to share our feelings is a wonderful thing, especially when it’s safe to share the feelings that upset us most. One sign of intimacy between people is being able to let the other person know when you’re feeling mad. Doing this in a constructive way brings us closer to others.
When we have a “good fight,” we share more of ourselves. This increases our understanding of each other, and as a result, fosters accepting each other more.
Tony Hacker, Ph.D. is a Seattle area psychologist who sees individuals and couples in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org