We’re all guilty of it. Even when we are in a little denial about it … it happens. We create narratives around our uncertainties and insecurities. We settle into routines. So we pick. And we prod. And we find ways to be passive-aggressive, or downright aggressive. It’s not fair and it’s not cool, but it’s part of our nature, and we have to be self-aware and condition ourselves out of it. It’s called self-work, sweetie.
Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, global relationship and empowerment expert, and the author of Boundary Boss-The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen and (Finally) Live Free. She has a gift for making complex psychological concepts accessible and actionable so that clients and students achieve sustainable change.Terri’s strategy is an amalgamation of the best of practical psychology, paired with Eastern mindfulness, to achieve sustainable change and true transformation in ourselves, and thus, in our relationships. Naturally, she had a thing or two to say about these unnecessary fights.
“We often pick unnecessary fights with our lovers because the stuff that’s really bothering us, the underlying issues, are too threatening to talk about. So we fight about bullshit because we need to get those emotions out—that frustration needs to get out of our body. So in a way, we are displacing our aggression over something that is serious, to something that is less threatening,” Terri shares.
Raise your hand if you relate. We all gravitate to this, and it feels almost as if we are being easier on ourselves and our partner to bring up the less serious stuff. But in reality, it’s a pick-your-battles kind of battle. Do we want to spend time and negative energy dwelling on, as Terri calls it, the bullshit? No, because while it’s a temporary vent, it will only cause the pain around the real stuff to fester and grow, and never be resolved. We need to reflect on the real problems and make special time to discuss them in earnest with our partners.
“We tend to be more critical of the ones we love the most because we feel the safest with them. If you’re in a solid relationship, you feel safe to be more critical or honest than you would with a coworker or a friend you don’t feel that secure with. Although, from a psychological point of view, I would say really check your criticism, because it’s really corrosive to be constantly critical.”
No one wants to be stuck in a loop of constant judgment so that they feel they have to walk on eggshells. This is another reason why setting aside the time for bigger talks is crucial—we can end up hurting our partners more by constantly pinging them for tiny infractions day after day, rather than one bigger discussion. That’s right, the word is “discussion,” not fight.
“Many people are considered HSPs, aka highly sensitive people, or empaths. But too sensitive? I don’t think we can deem people as too sensitive. I think that your sensitivity can be your superpower if you have good mental wellness, if you know who you are, if you take good care of yourself, and if you have healthy boundaries. If not, those sensitivities can be exhausting,” Terri explains, and that goes for both yourself and your partner.
It’s important to do some self-reflection about the state of your mental health, and whether or not your sensitivities are healthy or unhinged. Not to say anyone is crazy—sensitivities are beautiful. We want to make sure we aren’t punishing ourselves by creating narratives around our insecurities and sensitivities, and instead, working through what we can on our own and bringing our partner in when it truly involves them.
So how can we see our partners more clearly and forgivingly, while still having high standards, expectations, and boundaries?
“I think that it starts with seeing ourselves more clearly and forgivingly,” Terri starts. “Like actually knowing ourselves, because the more you know yourself, the more room you have for self-acceptance, self-love, and even self-celebration. It makes it so much easier to see our partners as the flawed humans that they are, which is not to be misconstrued as putting up with a bunch of bullshit. They are not the same thing. It just means that there has to be a level of acceptance. Because we are all works in progress. All human beings are works in progress.”
We never stop learning, changing, growing, and learning to love ourselves better, so it should be no different for our partners.
“How do we condition ourselves to stop doing this, to stop making drama out of small or totally in-our-own-head things? Know yourself, fall madly and deeply in love with yourself, which makes it easy to not do this. Because when we are creating drama in our relationships, we are actually creating distraction and pain, basically. It’s almost like lighting fires because we want to be connected, but we don’t know how to do it in a healthy way.
“So for some people, creating drama is still getting attention. It’s still being the focus of what our lover is thinking about at that moment, but it’s really bad for relationships. It scratches away at the foundation. And I don’t even know how you can build a real foundation if you have all of this up-and-down drama, because relationships aren’t really made of these peak positive or negative experiences. Real relationships are made up of the mundane, everyday, hour-to-hour stuff that we do for each other or to each other.
“You can condition yourself by deciding that you want to be different. By becoming curious about your tendency toward creating drama. And then getting committed to communicating effectively instead of making drama.”
“Trust me,” Terri assures, “making drama is a way of communicating something. But the person you’re communicating it to is going to have no idea what the hell is actually going on. So we need to practice knowing ourselves, learn to talk truthfully, and communicate directly and effectively. There is a much better way to get our partner’s attention than torturing them with drama.”
This goes the other way, as well. If you feel your partner is the one picking the fights, try asking them what might really be bothering them. Come to them with compassion, and make a safe space for them to share openly. Maybe even set a future time for them to think about it, then be available to come together to talk it out and try your best to remove judgment. Golden rule, always and forever.