Healthy vs. Unhealthy Discussion Patterns
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Discussion Patterns
In today’s podcast episode we’re going to talk about healthy conflict and how to ‘fight fair’.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the transcript and find more details here:
I’m going to teach you what it looks like to be in a relationship with a healthy person, someone who does not have a history of struggling with addiction versus what fighting and arguing looks like when you are struggling with addiction in your relationship.
And I’m doing this because I remember when I was married to a great man who was struggling with addiction. I always questioned whether or not our arguments and fighting were normal.
When we would fight, I’d be thinking, is it me? Did I bring all these negative behaviors or patterns into our relationship?
Is this how normal people argue?
Do they feel as frustrated as I do?
I was constantly wondering if what I was experiencing and living, arguing with someone suffering from addiction, was the same as what everyone else was experiencing.
Let’s be honest: It’s not necessarily common for people to go into detail with how they fight and argue, so there’s no way to know if it was normal.
So now that I’m in a healthy marriage, I want to share with you what it looks like, and what it sounds like when you’re fighting so that you can compare.
And also, I think it’s really important to take note that it is normal to argue in any type of relationship, whether you’re dealing with addiction or not.
When I left my ex-husband who was struggling with addiction, that was a huge wake-up call for me. Going into my next relationship and seeing there were still things to work through. The relationship wasn’t just perfect.
There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship that doesn’t require any work to get there.
So I had to adjust my expectations and let go a little bit. And that was okay.
It was actually quite healthy for couples to have points of contention or friction and work through them together.
If you’re in a healthy relationship and you have conflict, it can be an opportunity to grow together. When you work to understand each other and reach a resolution, that can bring you closer and build a stronger relationship.
But if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone that isn’t fighting fair, who isn’t looking for a common resolution, it can continue to cause a wedge in the relationship.
I heard this analogy a while back: a relationship is like one of those braided ropes. And when you decide to be in a relationship with someone, imagine you both holding one of these ropes.
The kind of rope that has dozens of smaller strands braided together to make up one strong rope.
And every time trust has broken, one of those strands breaks. In an unhealthy relationship where your partner is lying to you, manipulating you, not taking responsibility for their issues, and not being your greatest cheerleader, the rope becomes weak and fractured.
It may feel like you’re barely hanging on.
You may feel in a place of desperation begging your partner to stop lying to you. Because every time they lie, the damage is so awful and painful.
You may feel like if they continue then you’ll have no choice but to leave, because nothing will be left of the rope.
And leaving is scary. We have financial components to figure out. And what about the children? What will friends and family think? You may also still be in love with your partner, even though they’re suffering.
It’s easy to get really scared when we come down to just a few strings left.
When those strings break, it really hurts. It feels like rejection.
It’s okay that we feel upset and react strongly. We’re hurting and we’re scared. Of course we’re going to react. It creates fear.
These feelings are normal, but we need to know how to handle them. How do we communicate them in an effective way with our loved one?
And is that even possible when we’re dealing with someone who is struggling with addiction? The constant lying, denying, and manipulation.
So let me share with you a healthy version. This is what fighting can look like in a healthy relationship.
Let me give you a scenario.
I’ll give you a personal scenario because I make it super personal all the time.
Let’s say I have a problem with my spouse about the lack of discipline that he is providing a child.
We have a disagreement: I think there needs to be a conversation and he does not.
So I go to him and I say, let’s sit down and we turn off the TV and we turn off all distractions. And he sits up, you know, he was laying on the couch and he sits up in his chair.
So he shows me using his body language that he’s actually interested in what I have to say. And he’s open to hearing me. He’s not sitting there with his legs crossed and his arms crossed. And just with the sour look on his face.
And I am mirroring that, looking back to him. I am sitting there with open arms and with body language that suggests I’m not here to attack him.
I’m not here to criticize him.
I just want to express my feelings and work through this together.
When you are fighting fair, I’m going to sit down and explain how I feel about the issue.
I’m not going to expect him to read my mind. That means I’m not going to walk around the house, giving him the silent treatment or closing cabinets really hard, huffing or puffing. Right?
And I’ll be honest: I’ve done that before.
Instead of that, I’m actually taking responsibility for my feelings and starting a conversation with the goal of getting to a better place.
I’ll keep my statements brief. I’m not going on and on in lecture format, or nagging. I’m not going to bring up other issues that I may be upset about.
I’m going to stay focused on the issue and why it bothered me.
I’m going to leave criticisms out.
And I’ll use ‘I’ statements to talk about how something made me feel.
I felt like we needed to have a conversation with one of our children about their allowance.
That’s what the issue was about. That they needed to do a better job of asking before they spend it rather than spending it and then asking for forgiveness.
You’re making quick statements. You’re not going on and on.
Instead you’re stating your truth and taking responsibility for your feelings.
You’re working towards the goal and resolution.
This is what a discussion looks like in a healthy relationship. Now ideally, your partner would mirror back to you what you’ve just explained.
They’d use statements like ‘I hear you saying [and then paraphrase what you just said].’ Even if they don’t agree with what you’re saying, you should at least feel heard at this point.
They’ve listened to you, and understand what you’re asking well enough to paraphrase it back to you.
At this point, you’ll probably feel validated.
Because you know they’re listening and understand what you’re saying.
So the next part is essential for the discussion because it’s when your partner shares their thoughts. In an unhealthy relationship, this part is where things can go south.
But in a healthy relationship, I was just validated, and now it’s my turn to sit, listen, and give him the respect that he just gave me.
He explained to me in quick statements, free of judgment that he did agree with the discussion, but wanted to wait for a different time rather than at the dinner table with everyone there.
We were able to agree that he had a great point, and continued to talk about what that discussion may look like.
In this discussion, we both felt heard. We both felt validated.
We were both reassured. And that’s actually why conflict can bring two people together.
If they handle it this way, it can strengthen a marriage because you’re going to go through conflict no matter what.
Now this is what it looks like when you are involved with and loving an addict or alcoholic, or somebody that struggles with addiction.
The first part of this process that may be broken is that your partner isn’t willing to listen to you. They’re not willing to shut down distractions, sit on the couch together, look at each other in the face and talk about what’s going on.
And so, as the partners of someone that suffers from addiction, we may find ourselves in a place that we become reactive.
We may find ourselves pulling them aside and to lecture them, overexplain, or nag about their behaviors.
It’s common to become accusatory in these conversations. Think about your body language. We may become defensive or afraid, and our body language will show that.
And so starts the pattern in an unhealthy relationship. We accuse, they get defensive. The pattern can look a lot of different ways, but this is the basic principle.
They likely refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
You know what they’re doing is wrong, so of course, we step into ‘lawyer mode’ where we’re trying to prove it.
Now, sometimes these discussions can turn extremely hurtful to us. It just depends on your partner and their addiction. For example, your partner may call you hurtful names, lash out at you, or bring up past traumatic experiences.
They may blame you for their behavior and actions.
Or say that if you’d just stop nagging them, they’d stop.
Here’s another pattern that can occur: your partner may give in to you. They may say yes, you’re totally right just to get you off their back.
They think that if they just agree and apologize, you’ll leave them alone. So that’s what they do. All the while having no intention to change their behaviors.
Just to be clear, even in healthy discussions, it’s okay to get angry. That’s part of a relationship and being passionate about what you believe.
A lot of women feel bad for feeling angry. And that’s something that is a lie.
You are allowed to react. You are allowed to be hurt.
And you’re allowed for your heart to break.
You are in a heartbreaking relationship truly. And so it’s okay for you not to be in that healthy-fighting scenario, because here’s the truth: You can work your little tuchus off all you want to, but unless you have a partner, that’s also got the same goal as you, and is willing to be really honest and really truthful and really kind and really gentle with you, you’re not going to be able to do the healthy model.
That takes two healthy people.
So you can choose to be healthy and follow the steps, but you have to drop the expectation that your partner is going to do the same.
If they’re still in denial about their addiction, your fighting will never be fair.
So all of this to say, what’s the moral of the lesson today? it’s please don’t compare yourself and your relationship to the healthy model right now.
It’s unattainable until your partner is willing to take accountability and they can’t take accountability until there’s long-term sobriety and they’re getting help with AA or a therapist, or they’re diving into their own personal, I don’t know self-help journey.
Also know that if your partner never gets healthy, never stops their addiction that you can leave.
I’m not telling you to leave. I’m saying you have the option of leaving and you have the option of wanting to have a healthier version of arguments and arguing with a healthier human being.
You reserve the right and you actually deserve to be in a relationship where someone’s going to mirror back your feelings and validate you.
Someone who really wants to work through this together.
That’s what you deserve, whether you choose to get it is entirely your decision.
And there’s zero judgment from me on whether you choose to stay or leave.
Both are okay, and you can choose to stay today. And you reserve the right to change your mind tomorrow.
Take what you’re learning, use it in your real life, over and over again.
And I promise you, you will see results.
Nothing in life comes super easy, especially personal growth, but I believe in you.
I absolutely know that you can get through this time in your life and come out on the other side, incredibly happy and incredibly strong and so, so confident.
And you will start to feel like life is good. Again. I promise. And I’m here to cheer you on and be there for you every step of the way.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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