We all get into arguments at home– that is normal, but at the end of each fight do you feel closer? Do you feel like you understand each other better? Do you feel like you got to a real resolution? These are key questions. If with each and every fight you bring out the worse in each other and you lose more and more respect, then Houston we’ve got a problem.
Gottman warns that in the final stage of a relationship there are 4 tell-tale signs: (1) the problems seem severe; (2) talking seems useless; (3) you start living parallel lives and (4) lonliness sets in. Every day when I meet with my clients getting divorced, I hear the same thing– the good memories no longer outweigh the bad ones, and they simply can’t wipe the slate clean and start fresh– they just need out.
Before it gets to the point of no return, there are ways that people can learn to fight better– in a respectful manner. Without name-calling, making threats, giving ultimateums or stonewalling, it is possible to present a strong case for how you feel about something. The reason we try to establish rules upfront is to prevent having bad behaviors create irrepairable damage. Love is so fragile, and you need to treat it gently. Pouring acid over each other is the surest way to kill your love.
Now bad fights don’t usually play out in the beginning when everyone is on their best behavior, but I recently asked some of my happily married girlfriends if they still fight, and they all laughed and confirmed that conflict is normal even 10 years into knowing someone– there are, however, established rules. Here are 2 in particular that I want to embrace: (1) you have 24 hours to get something out of your system. If something bothers you, let it out within a day, otherwise forever hold your peace. (2) once an argument has occured and the issue has been resolved, you need to let it go. Harboring ill-feelings and bringing up bad moments won’t do anyone any good.
Keep in mind that in my professional life, I have been trained as a lethal warrior– and we do keep scorecards in court. Forgiveness is not something that comes easy to litigators– but it can be done. The world of mediation and Collaborative Law taught me the power of promoting peace, and this seeped into my personal life such that in the last few years, I have come to forgive some pretty major transgressions. To help wipe the slate clean, visualize an etch-a-sketch, and let the past go.
By no means am I suggesting that everyone should be given the same level of consideration–you need to decide who is worthy of forgiveness and having a second chance. Here you need to follow your gut. Your instincts are the best indicator of whether something is right for you or not. You’ll hit reset when you are ready, and if you can’t then it is time to move on.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.