Picture this: You're riding a bike with your partner, having dinner with friends, or walking your dog against the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset. There is ease, openheartedness, and affection. And then a touchy topic comes up. "We need to talk about something you said at the party last week that bothered me."
Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, you're standing against, not with, each other. All you see is your partner’s angry-looking face—glaring eyes, and tight, thin mouth—and a body that has moved from open to clenched. As the chemicals of fight and flight surge through our bodies, our certainty that we are right increases, and we loudly or silently move apart.
We are wired to do this when we sense we are in danger, like when a wild animal is chasing us. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, to run, to hide. The difference is that our partner is not a wild animal who is out to get us. They are just as distressed by what they are seeing in us as we are by what we are seeing in them.
I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for 35 years now, and trust me: I've seen every type of conflict under the sun. Here are some essential things I have learned about how to fight right: