It starts out like a little bonfire in the woods. It’s not big, it’s controllable, we feel the heat but it’s nothing we can’t tolerate. We then start dousing the bonfire with fuel. We know the fire is getting bigger but at the time, we just don’t care. We start sweating. We feel the scorching heat on our faces and it’s no longer tolerable- it just hurts. At this point, the fire is out of control. Our bonfire has become a forest fire and we feel like there is no way out. We can’t take back the fuel that we threw onto the fire. It’s already been done. The worst part about it is that we have no one to blame except ourselves- but of course, we blame each other.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had these types of fights in past relationships. One thing leads to the next and that little teeny fight turns into a battle to the death- only one person can be left standing. When I look back at these types of fights, it seems so silly and ridiculous. We almost broke up over who ate the last chip in the bag? Seriously? Okay, so maybe that exact situation never happened in my past but the forest fires that were created in my past were made over equally ridiculous things.
As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve learned to keep my bonfire a bonfire. Forest fire fights are unnecessary and all they do is lead to hurtful things being said, situations that no longer feel controllable, tears, and stress. Stress can be a motivator in certain situations but the stress that comes from fighting is never the productive kind. Stress has both physical and mental symptoms, which are all unpleasant. Just a few are: heartburn, headaches, stomach pain, increased anger and frustration.
My algorithm to avoid the fire is C+C. The two C’s are communication and compromise. It sounds simple, but when your immediate reaction to a bonfire is to douse the fire with gasoline, it takes practice and time to change one habitual reaction to another. If you’re willing to put the algorithm into practise, I can tell you with certainty that you will see results.
The first of the C’s being communication, is the most important because you cannot compromise without it. To avoid the fire, you need to look at communication as more than just “exchanging information” as the dictionary defines it as. When you’re met with a bonfire, not only can the words you use be used as fuel but also their tone and volume. You also have to consider what your body language is communicating. If I’m giving you the middle finger but calmly saying, “I love you”, I’m going to piss you off even more!
I’ve written a few tips that are important to consider (and learn) for communicating with your partner when there is a bonfire in your midst.
1. If you need a moment to cool off before talking things out with your partner, take a walk to cool down. The bonfire may have made you a bit heated.
2. Think before you speak or respond. Oftentimes things are said that are later regretted because the person wasn’t thinking.
3. When you’re speaking, don’t play the blame game. Explain how you are feeling and why you are feeling a certain way. Use “I” to begin your sentences and avoid “You”.
4. When your partner is speaking, LISTEN. Don’t half listen while the other half of your thoughts are conjuring up the next retaliation sentence. If you’re not listening, you’re not communicating.
5. If you don’t understand something your partner has said, ask them to explain it in a different way. Don’t assume you know what they mean because you probably don’t. This also goes for you too. If your partner doesn’t understand, don’t get angry. Try explaining yourself in another way.
6. And of course, the most obvious- don’t scream and shout. Be mature in your communications. Why raise your blood pressure when you don’t have to?
The second C of the two is compromise. This was probably the harder of the two for me to learn because for a long time I had a mindset that can be best compared to the Limp Bizkit song, “My Way (or the highway).” Compromising with your partner allows for both of you to be happy with a decision that you’ve made without one or the other feeling cheated or given the “short end of the stick”. Compromise is just as important as communication because a relationship that is one-sided will not last.
While the example of the fight over who ate the last potato chip is ridiculous, I’m going to use it to explain a few things because it’s easiest to understand. If my partner eats the last potato chip in the bag and we’re met with a bonfire, the first thing we are going to do is communicate.
When we arrive at the compromising stage, I’m going to consider the following: what do I want to happen so that I don’t feel cheated by my partner’s actions? How important is that potato chip to me really? If I do get the potato chip, how will that change things? If I don’t get it, how does that change things? Is there something else available to replace the potato chip with that I’ll be equally as happy with?
Then I’ll need to hear my partner’s side of the compromise. He/she also does not want to feel cheated. Through our communication and willingness to compromise, we can arrive at a solution that fits both of our needs. I know all of these things sound silly, but the potato chip analogy can be translated to most fight scenarios.
I don’t consider myself a relationship expert, nor will I say that the relationship I am in is perfect. Do my partner and I ever get into fights? Absolutely! Do we ever fight about petty, ridiculous things? No doubt we do! The difference between our relationship and the relationships I have had in the past is that by using the C+C algorithm, we have never had any bonfires turn into rapid forest fires. I guess you could say we are metaphorical fire fighters and we know how to avoid the fire.