When was the last time you tried doing something and it feels as though you are constantly failing? Or no matter how hard you try to do things better, you end up with the same disastrous result?
It’s frustrating when you have an agenda to accomplish and one thing or another keeps you from achieving it.
It’s probably no surprise to acknowledge that same is true for conflict in your relationship. There are at least two genuine realities happening in any conflict. And BOTH of these realities are what need to be understood by each partner in order to experience the benefits of constructive conflict.
PROBLEM: Conflict always getting the same unfortunate outcome of misunderstanding and feeling disconnected or disengaged.
SOLUTION: Fight naked.
Simply put, this strategy works through the 3 things to strip away from each argument in order to experience the true benefit of conflict (closer connection and improved understanding).
P R A C T I C E
When you fight naked, rather than grappling with your partner in your birthday suit (while, sure, that too may hold some benefit), the 3 things to strip away from any conflict are “why,” “yeah, but you,” and complaints.
1. Strip away “why”
Ever notice how your defenses rise as soon as someone asks you why you did one thing or another?
- “Why were you late?”
- “Why were you speeding?”
- “Why didn’t you throw that in the hamper?”
- “Why did you spend that much?”
Any time you insert a why-question into a conflict, you are suspending any ability to find resolution until your partner’s defenses decrease.
When you strip away the “why”, even when initiating a discussion that you feel will likely lead into conflict and replace the “why” with a less judgmental question, you have instantly increased your partner’s ability to actually hear what you have to say.
Somewhere along the line of your life and training, you may have heard about the skills of “active listening”. While this is a beneficial tool, it pretty much removes any responsibility of the speaker. When you strip away the “why” you are acknowledging that you, the speaker, accept responsibility too.
Next time you have a question that would initially start with a “why…”
slow down and get creative.
Lean into the curiosity behind the situation or event.
This can be as simple as replacing the “why” with another question. “How can we…”, “What can be done about…”, or even “how come…?”
- “Why were you late?” try instead, “I heard you say earlier that you’d be home by noon; what ended up happening?”
- “Why are you speeding?” try, “It seems you’re in a hurry; how can I help?”
- “Why didn’t you throw that in the hamper?” try, “Can you help me understand how the socks keep missing the hamper each day?”
- “Why did you spend that much?” try instead, “Tell me more about what you got and how you came to the decision to buy it.”
2. Strip away “yeah, but you…”
When in conflict, couples can quickly move into defensiveness. It’s natural and a key part of our human condition: survival (think “fight or flight”).
The problem with this that it is not always about survival in marriages and more often about how to thrive together. If there is a legitimate threat of danger, that’s an entirely different scenario, but in the case of the majority of couples, the threat of survival is a false alarm sent straight to the nervous system.
One common defense used in conflict as defenses are beginning to rise, the next words are often, “Yeah, but you…”
This response minimizes the true need and deflects the concern back toward the other partner, leaving the entire conflict in the air.
Many times couples would say after an argument like this, “I have no idea what we are even arguing about now!”
Instead of rising to the defense next time your partner brings up an issue
and you notice your defenses burgeoning,
just listen to your partner’s concern,
and then look for even one small hint of responsibility you may have had in it.
“You completely embarrassed me in front of the family and my friends!” Even while you may not completely AGREE with this statement, acknowledge what you know was your responsibility that you may not have considered. “You’re right. I wasn’t really thinking how what I had said would make you feel,” or, “I can see how you’re upset about that. I should’ve waited until it was just me and you to say that,” or even, “I guess I see how that didn’t add anything to the conversation and made you feel embarrassed.” Any of these options can help your partner feel better understood and your defenses can remain low enough to actually feel connected with your partner rather than building walls.
3. Strip away complaints.
In couples work, the superlatives of “you always” and “you never” are frequently thrown around like confetti. Oftentimes, when you have a wish or desire it can be more easily described by spouting off what you DON’T want rather than what you want or need.
While the idea of this skill is simple, the practice of it can feel awkward and initially complex.
It is helpful to remember we are striving for progress not perfection.
So, rather than “you never let me finish my sentence - you always interrupt me,”
this skill teaches you to slow down
and discover your true desire that lies behind that complaint.
Perhaps you really want to feel as though your words have value or that you wish you could actually problem-solve together, rather than your partner just taking the proverbial wheel from you.
Beneath every complaint is a cleverly disguised wish/hope/dream.
If you slow down long enough, you may notice that there is a direct opposite of the negative complaint that may describe your need more clearly.
“I love hearing your thoughts and understanding how you’d solve this. Along with this, I want to share my thoughts too” or, “I feel so strong and can sense your support every time I know you’re listening. I would like to finish my thought, and then I can hear yours.”
So, there you have it. The down and dirty: how you can save your marriage by FIGHTING NAKED.