How to Fight Better with the XYZ Formula

Let's face it. Fights happen.

But how you fight makes all the difference when it comes to the quality (and longevity) of your relationship.

And what is a fight anyway? It's a misunderstanding. You and your partner are not understanding how you are making each other feel.

Conflict is an important signal in your relationship that there are new feelings and desires that need to be understood.

When most couples fight, however, they react in habitual ways that keep them stuck in an uncomfortable situation.

Relationship scientist Dr. John Gottman, in his study of thousands of couples in his “Love Lab,” identified four common behaviors that often lead to a break-up.

They include:

    Criticism: when you deride your partner's character or personality
    Contempt: when you display a sense of superiority or disrespect for your partner
    Defensiveness: when you protect yourself by deflecting blame
    Stonewalling: when you tune your partner out

Now it's natural for these behaviors to show up in conflict every once in awhile. But the persistent presence of these patterns will cause serious strain in your partnership...and likely lead it its dissolution.

So what can a couple do instead?

Here is a simple formula to help you understand each other better.

“In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.”

The first step is to identify the situation where the misunderstanding occurred. This is key for explaining where and when your feelings got hurt.

The second step is to identify the behavior of your partner. This is important to help your partner understand that you are not criticizing him or her as a person. You are bringing their awareness to the behavior that causes the heartache.

The third step is to identify your feelings - what you actually felt in that situation and with that behavior. Did you feel hurt? Sad? Confused? Get clear on the actual feelings you experienced internally and share them with your partner.

It's not always easy to remember this formula when you are in the heat of things...but taking a moment to breathe, compose yourself, and express your emotions with this formula will be far more effective than anything else you try.

When you speak in this way, you will understand the nature of the misunderstanding better and help each other feel more honored and appreciated.

So how can you start?

Share this article with your partner. Start this simple practice immediately in your next fight.  Know that this skill is key for the health and vitality of your relationship.

Over time, you'll become better fighters (and lovers)...and this is crucial for your evolution as individuals and as a couple.


Looking for more personalized guidance? I specialize in teaching couples the essential skills for fighting less and playing more.

Reach out to schedule a free consultation!

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