Recognizing a Lose-Lose Fight
Nothing devastates a relationship more than a fight that has gone too far. Sure it’s easy to tell when you’re both throwing plates. You know that by then it’s a lose-lose proposition. No one will emerge as having won though you’re both doing all you can to prove that the other is bad, wrong, uncaring—you fill in the blank. History gets changed. You begin to wonder if your partner ever loved you. You begin to imagine that the two of you will never be able to make up. But does that stop you. If it’s too late, you will keep hurling vituperative jabs stopping, only at the point of total exhaustion or tears. The next morning looks pretty bleak.
Once you let the horses out of the barn, strategic retreats become all but impossible. You can tell if you are about to open the floodgates. Just notice your language. It will be filled with phrases like “but you,” “you never,” and “you always.” These words indicate you have stepped over the line. You are no longer brainstorming and being reflective about what would work. You are no longer sharing what it’s like to be you. Instead you have moved into the attack-blame game.
As a couple you thrive on interactions where you focus on what would work next time. You will feel closer when you describe your own experience. But once you begin to assault your partner’s character, you move into the forbidden zone. You lose sight of the nuances. You now act as if there’s only one intelligent way to look at things which of course happens to be yours. You become a mind reader and know with absolute certainty what the other person is thinking, and intending. You become clear that your partner has no positive thoughts about you. Attacking the other to defend yourself seems like the best offense.
Soon your partner will cross the line as well. Now you both have entered the zone of no winners. If you recognize this spiral into marital chaos, don’t give up. Couples can learn to recognize the above warning signs well in advance of the point of no return. Be watchful. Catch yourself narrowing your focus on proving that the whole fault is your partner’s. If you trying to establish who started the battle you have moved into the attack blame game where there are no winners. Challenge yourself to hear your partner’s point of view. Nudge yourself toward keeping in mind that most actions come from a myriad of motivations.
As you come to recognize stress and tiredness in yourself or your partner, you can interpret your anger or your partner’s as coming from having had a hard day. You can announce when you get home, that you will probably be pretty reactive and suggest that the two of you not solve any major problems. When necessary if you slip into the “always” or “never” language, ask for some alone time until you can regroup. Plan in advance to agree to a cease fire, if you are starting to slip down the slippery slope. Take a walk. Go watch some television. Go meditate.
Win-win interactions occur when both of you are willing to hear the other’s point of view. In this space you can hear each other’s point of view and appreciate the extenuating circumstances. You can forgive when you see your partner as overwhelmed from dealing with a sick mother rather than someone who is just out to get you.
When you catch yourself starting to dig in to prove you are right, simply back off. Take some time in another room. You both will feel better in the morning.