All couples fight. It is unavoidable. Imperfect people form imperfect relationships. I have an imperfect marriage too. My wife and I have conflicts once in awhile. I don’t like to fight. Neither does she. So we decided early on in our marriage that we would work together to resolve our conflicts. We became allies in arguments. I’ll share what that looks like in a minute. In my work I witness adversarial couples. They fight a lot. Sometimes it is over the stupidest things. Over time they develop a negative perspective toward each other and their marriage. It’s sad. It’s also dangerous. Patterns develop early on in relationships. Couples need to pay attention to these patterns and address them together. After all, patterns are co-created. You’ve heard it said before, “It takes two to tango.” The good news is that you can learn a new dance! In the first of this two-part series I want to highlight the differences between allied and adversarial couples. In the next blog I will show you how to move from an adversarial to an allied couple. Let’s begin by highlighting 5 characteristics of an allied couple. Next we will look at 5 characteristics of an adversarial couple.

Allies Attack the Problem, Not Each Other

Allied couples understand that attacking each other doesn’t end well. When they notice this pattern emerging, they quickly stop it and try a different approach. They attack the problem with a goal to resolve this issue together.

Allies Share Power

Power flows between people. It has to be regulated properly. Power is a person’s right to think, feel, speak, and act for themselves. Allied couples respect each other’s power by being considerate when the other is talking.

Allies Try to Understand Each Other

In an argument, allied couples will slow the pace of conversation down so they can better understand each other. They don’t speak over each other. To slow things down, they will summarize what a partner might say.  “So what I hear you saying is…” “Did I get that right?”

Allies Own Their End of The Conflict

Allied couples normalize imperfection. When someone does something wrong they own it, repair it, and resolve the issue. Ownership disarms the tension. Closure is more likely achieved when allies own their end of the argument.

Allies Seek Win-Win Outcomes

Allied couples want a mutually satisfying outcome. For them, a winner and a loser is not an option. They will work through a conflict, addressing both sides of an issue, to find a solution that works overall. Sometimes they find middle ground. Other times one may defer to the other, knowing they will do the same for them on another issue. These decision come from a good place, a caring heart. [Tweet “Allied couples want a mutually satisfying outcome. For them, a winner and a loser is not an option.”]

Adversaries Attack Each Other

Adversarial couples get confused in the fog of battle. They forget they are on the same side. Instead of attacking the problem they attack each other! This approach does not end well. Someone usually ends up hurt. Often both.

Adversaries Get Stuck In Power Struggles

Adversarial couples get locked into power struggles over the smallest issue. The issue is often not the problem. The need to be right or in control is. Time and energy is wasted fighting over something minor. In more cases than not, the issue is not resolved. Unresolved issues get stockpiled around the relationship–ammo for future fights.

Adversaries Act in Win-Loss Outcomes

Because of the strategy used, the outcome is rarely positive for adversarial couples. Often one person wins and the other loses. Losers resent winners. So you won the argument. You probably lost the respect of your spouse. In win-loss outcomes, the relationship loses.

Adversaries Communicate Poorly

A common feature of an adversarial couple is their tendency to talk over each other. Listening to understand is absent. Rather, adversarial couples are so focused on their point of view that they pay very little attention to what their partner is saying. Typically, the conversation escalates until one shuts down on the other. Then a cold war ensues. Words are few. Sentiment is communicated in non-verbals.

Adversaries Struggle Trusting Each Other

A pattern of adversarial behavior in a couple will erode trust. This is not good. Trust is fundamental to a healthy relationship. When trust weakens the relationship is at risk.

What Type of Couple Are You?

After reading the characteristics of the allied versus the adversarial couple, where are you? If you tend to exhibit more of the allied couple traits you are in good shape.  Keep it up! If you find that you exhibit more of the adversarial traits then you have some work to do on your relationship. You cannot do it alone. You and your spouse/partner have to work at it together.

My Next Blog

In my next blog I will show you how to make the transition from an adversarial to an allied couple.