How many of us grew up in a house full of arguing and screaming? What about those who lived in silent awkwardness when mom and dad weren't speaking? Then there are the adults from healthy households. This article is not for you! Today I'm addressing two different types of arguing styles: the fighters and runners. Fighters are those who grew up accustomed to arguing and confrontation. This includes those who were physically or emotionally abused, and those who were just plain old yelled at. People who are used to this style of communication thrive on the conflict because it's what is their normal. They even get frustrated when their partners shut down or refuse to talk about things because it's against everything they know. Runners are those who totally avoid conflict altogether. Often they come from homes where they were neglected or witnessed a lot of silent anger, aka anger that was never spoken about but still felt like an invisible smoke in the air. As a result, when they are in relationships they will do ANYTHING to avoid actually talking about problems. Usually they will avoid, deny or simply lie about any feelings to stuff down possible conflict.
The problem with both these arguing styles is that they are 1. entirely opposite 2. both ineffective in resolving conflict. 3. terribly mismatched. So what's a guy (or gal) to do when they find themselves in a relationship with someone who is a runner when they're a fighter? Is the relationship doomed? Not necessarily. It just takes a lot of healthy communication to get to the point where the runner feels safe to share their feelings with the fighter and the fighter can remain calm enough to discuss things without getting angry. Trust me, this does not come easy. But fear not! There is hope for a mismatched relationship. While I do recommend couples and possibly individual therapy, I understand not everyone will be on board for that. So as a cheat sheet, below are a few things that are ESSENTIAL in bridging the gap between both dysfunctional styles:
- Fighters: Do not, I repeat DO NOT react in anger if your partner comes to you with a complaint or concern. Take a deep breath, listen, and then share how what they said made you feel. Start with your feelings- not a defensive remark. Really listen to their words. Remember it takes a lot for runners to share their feelings, so don't make it harder by being mad or yelling. Doing so will only make them stuff down their feelings again. There will be slips when you get angry and short. That's okay; it takes time to practice being calm and not reacting negatively. But if you are able to make your (runner) partner feel safe enough to share how they feel, they will continue to do so and your relationship will only improve.
- Runners: Stop stuffing your emotions down. What you feel and think matters. Look for a good time to talk. Don't do it when your (fighter) partner is tired, hungry, frustrated already or intoxicated. When they are relaxed and in a good mood, that is the time to share. Remember the Mary Poppins method: spoonful of sugar (You are such an amazing boyfriend and I appreciate how hard you work to provide for us), then medicine (I would really love if you and I spent more time together). Elaborate on how you feel (I feel sad when we don't get to be together that often) and end with a request (It would make me really happy if you made time for a date night once a week). Remember you deserve to ask for things! You are in the relationship as well. Nothing ever gets resolved if you keep your mouth shut. Speak honestly but gently.
Hopefully these tips will help the runners and fighters out there. For those who learned these skills in functional, healthy homes- good for you! I would say the other 90% of the population could stand to practice these techniques during every argument they have with their mates. I myself (a runner) used to stuff my emotions down and never shared them with my husband. That was incredibly destructive to our relationship because he never knew how I truly felt. I would appease him to avoid conflict. Once I was able to share how his anger made me very hesitant to share things, he listened and things totally changed. Today I feel safe enough to communicate my feelings and he is able to not get frustrated when I do so. Timing is still everything; I don't bring things up after he's had a long, stressful day at work. But the freedom of being able to be open with how you feel in relationship is priceless. I realized arguing is necessary- it's how conflicts get resolved. No "fighting" or "running" needed.