Jan & Monika

BLOG: The Psychology Behind Fighting and How to Stop

Fighting, otherwise termed interpersonal conflicts, is one of the most common sources of daily stress. It causes a breakdown in communication, it often arises from judgment, and it typically reduces love, rapport, closeness, affection, respect and generosity. The question is: what do we do about it when it seems to become the fabric of our relationships, interwoven in a string of misunderstanding and desperation to fight it, fix it or flee from it?


In an effort to work through a troubled and consistently conflicted relationship, the first thing to identify is what close relationships can serve as a resource that individuals can use to help them cope. Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of social support in times of stress. Support from close friends, like a coach or therapist or unbiased friend, may influence which coping strategies are employed, and the effectiveness of these strategies.

In general, individuals who perceive that support is available to them, and who are more satisfied with the support they receive, tend to engage in more adaptive forms of coping, and they are less vulnerable to the negative effects of stress. Once you know who you can trust and who you can turn to when in an upset, then you can begin the process of working through it.

The next thing that is critical to understand is what your predisposition is when it comes to conflict – FIGHT, FIX or FLEE.  


1. FIGHTERS – If you are a fighter then you typically respond to whatever triggers conflict defensively. Acting defensively is a common human behavior. The brain’s primary function is to protect. When talking to people, if they feel psychologically safe with you, you might be able to have a rational conversation with them. If their brain detects a possible threat, however, it will trigger a protective response. Generally, when someone becomes defensive they are engaging in emotionally defensive maneuvers designed to ward off their having to experience some unwanted feeling, or admit responsibility for some disowned act. No matter who is at fault for triggering fear or anger when conversing, you have the ability to ease the tension and refocus on achieving a desired result together. It requires checking in to clarify perspectives, especially if they are different, having compassion, and being willing to apologize while recognizing that underneath there is a positive intent.

2. FIXERS – If you are a fixer then you typically jump away from the emotional state and jump right into the rational logical experience attempting to shift the focus and end the conflict. Fixers often do not realize that there is a disconnect between them and the issue at hand because they skip the vital step of relating to the issue and jump right into making the upset or pain simply go away. This limits consideration, compassion and understanding. A basic human need is to be heard, received and understood so when fixers are in a conflict they often miss the intention that was not being met, and take a position to convince others to change. When an individual is not ready to do that because they don’t feel understood, then often it can bring up unresolved childhood wounds of feeling blamed, shamed or unloved. This triggers a cycle of misunderstanding and can cause defensive counter-behavior. The key is to recognize the internal discomfort, internally acknowledge and reassure oneself, and then gently move into a space of listening and reflecting. Once understanding and mutual respect is present, then solutions can be offered and they are typically received gratefully.

3. FLEERS – If you are a fleer, you seek to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. Conflict avoidance is a method of reacting to conflict, which attempts to avoid directly confronting the issue at hand. Methods of doing this can include changing the subject, putting off a discussion until later, or simply not bringing up the subject of contention. Fleers will respond positively when they do not experience a growing level of emotional distress. Often I find fleers to be empathic so they can sense and feel things, and it can become quite uncomfortable if they do not have strong boundaries. To support an interaction with a fleer consider taking on these practices: Listen attentively, seek to understand the root cause, remain neutral, calm and aware of your emotions, work to see and reflect the other perspective, recognize your role in the relationship, suggest alternatives and options, be open to compromise.


And finally, once you are clear about how you and others respond, then you can implement three basic relationship principles:


1. EVERYONE SEEKS TO BE HEARD, RECEIVED, AND UNDERSTOOD. Therefore, are you providing the compassionate space of love and generosity in order to understand and listen to someone? And are you employing patience with them as they learn to listen and understand you?


2. PRACTICE SEEING THE LOVING ESSENCE AND HEART-CENTRIC LISTENING. Beneath everything that people do is the authentic self, what I refer to as the soul-essence, and that place inside of all humans which is pure love. If we operate from that place, then we can tap deep within ourselves to recognize that everyone is doing the best they can even when they are upset or they upset us. From this place, we can center ourselves in our heart, and listen from the ears of our heart and soul rather than our human ears, which can often fall into the trap of assumption, taking things personally, judgment and misinterpretation. Using these skills can shift any upset or fight in literally seconds. They are muscle building skills so I suggest you start by practicing looking into your own eyes in the mirror and see your loving essence with the eyes of your heart FIRST!!


3. BENEATH ALL HUMAN INTERACTION IS A POSITIVE INTENT. Positive Intent means that there is always a positive function or purpose for what is currently happening in our lives. For example, a behavior we don’t like about ourselves, like getting angry when our child whines, or getting shy when walking into a room full of people, or having dyslexia or any kind of habit or pattern that doesn’t work for us. There is always a positive reason for us having that in our lives. On a higher level this behavior, habit or way of being serves us. This is a wild example: What do you suppose smoking cigarettes might do for people on a higher level? When I ask clients that question I hear answers like: “Smoking helps me to relax and take a deep breath.” Another one said: “Then I’m free for a moment.” So, essentially the positive intent of that person is to be free. How interesting. The behavior of smoking actually gives them a feeling of freedom. That’s their positive intent for their behavior. Look for a person’s positive intent, and you will begin to recognize that their upset, or desire to fight, comes because their intent is not recognized, and they are trying to get you to hear them and understand them. Most people are trying to do a good job. The truth is, most people don’t want to ruin your life, offend you, or cause you problems. Most people want to succeed and do well. Assume the positive. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately you will find that your relationships, your listening skills, and your stress will all improve as you do.


“My failures have been errors in judgment, not of intent.” –Ulysses S. Grant

Now this is a recipe for successful navigation of any tricky relationship fights. Once you start understanding each other, and in an intimate relationship loving one another, the opportunity to let go of the anger, resent, and hurt appears, and you can start forgiving, clarifying, understanding and appreciating again. And when that happens, voila… less fights, more intimacy, more understanding and more kindness and more love.