By Katy Ray
“Life is good when the love is great, but great love takes work”. That’s the motto of Dr. Jennelle, of the Big Change of Heart podcast and relationship community. Dr. Jennelle is a PhD Psychologist and relationship adviser, and she’s ready to share some words of wisdom with the LGBTQutie community!
If you’re stuck in a rut in your relationship, or looking to break the cycle of fighting, then this blog is for you. If you’re single and thinking about entering a relationship, this blog is also for you. Read along to see how Dr. Jennelle suggests some healthy approaches to one of the most important aspects of healthy relationships: fighting. If you want to learn more, subscribe to the Big Change of Heart podcast and tune in to the entire conversation here.
What are some of those unique challenges you commonly see non-traditional couples facing? I always start by saying: what do you want your relationship to look like? Outside of any societal norms, what is it that you’re really working on? Is it a partnership where you both have equal stake? Do you both want children? Dream big and determine what you want your relationship to look like—and on the other side of that— imagine what you want your conflict to look like.
Arguing and fighting is common in every relationship. Arguments in the beginning of a relationship, especially in the rainbow community, are usually about roles and responsibilities. What is each of us going to do? What are we deciding is shared or a compromise? That’s really the starting point: getting clear on those boundaries and upholding them. As you move through the relationship, you’ll need to re-establish the ones that fade and revise the ones that that aren’t working, so you’re both clear on what you’re both expecting of each other in the partnership.
We take the time to define what our relationship looks like, but we need to discuss and define what the fighting looks like. What are some healthy strategies to fight? Dream up your next argument, because arguing is healthy and there is a healthy way to do it. Imagining what a conflict could look like allows you to prepare for it. The healthiest way to argue is all about timing, approach, and the language you choose. (1) Approach: Preparation for the conflict comes into play by how you approach it with your partner. Instead of releasing everything you’re feeling, let your partner know that you’re upset about something and you’d like to talk about it. Give them a pre-emptive heads up, and set a time to calmly discuss the issue at hand. (2) Timing: Neither person should be in an emotionally expressive and aggressive state; you need to bring it down to a calmer level, which does sometimes mean tabling something for a later moment. Give your partner time to figure out how they feel about the issue, and recognize that you both need time to process what the issue is. (3) Language: You want to avoid that reactive language, such as bringing up the past or saying things in the heat of the moment. Giving your partner time and space to process your concerns, as well as yourself, can help to avoid this reactive, aggressive language.
What are some of the abusive tactics people often resort to when fighting? We have to watch out for those low blows, that really reactive language. We’re all guilty of this one time or another but bringing up the past can be particularly damaging. Those statements in the argument can make your partner feel like they’re being watched or scrutinized. And then, the last thing is really recognizing that you each need time to process what the issue really is. If you’re bringing something to your partner, they may need time to process how they feel about it. Some people take longer to process. Anger shows up first, so giving your partner time is key.
How important is it to get to know our partners in terms of conflict? How do fighting profiles show up in relationships, and how can we navigate them? Sometimes you have two people in a relationship who are much more similar, but there tends to be a similar dynamic of someone who tends to shut down more, and somebody who is more verbally expressive. It’s not to say that one is bad or problematic—it’s about getting to know your partner. Start by taking some time to get to know your partner’s love language.
There are five possible ways in which you and your partner best receive love: Act of service, like doing the dishes or something around the house; giving a gift; spending quality time together; physical touch; and, words of affirmation. A lot of times, the reason why the fighting profile shows up is because you’re not speaking your partner’s love language. Maybe you’re approaching it from the way you feel best loved, but not approaching it in a way that your partner is still going to feel loved through this difficult conversation. There has to be give and take on both sides.
Can you speak to the concept of boundary setting? How important is boundary setting in a relationship? How does boundary setting help couples navigate hard times? Boundaries are an important aspect of every relationship. You have to know your boundaries before you enter a relationship. Boundaries are things you’re not willing to compromise on, or lines that you need drawn. When you feel your boundaries are crossed, there are all sorts of negative consequences, like resentment.
First, you need to continually work on what your boundaries are. If your partner has set a boundary that there’s no communication with an ex, you need to respect that. It could lead to issues of insecurity of mistrust. It’s important to follow the these three guiding principles of boundary setting: (1) Revisit a boundary: is it in place, is it being followed? (2) Revise it: if it’s not working, you may need to revise the way it’s put into practice. If the ex thing won’t work, because kids are involved. (3) Re-Establish: now that we know where they are, we are going to put them in place and move forward.
Boundaries need to be revisited regularly. If you’re feeling violated in a certain area, then you need to verbalize that boundary and go back and revisit it and go through those steps.
How can establishing and respecting boundaries help fighting? Swearing, door slamming, are boundaries within a fight that we can use. Those are the kind of fighting boundaries you can set up as well, because they can indicate that things are getting heated, and it’s time to separate from the discussion. In thinking of how you argue, the goal is to make sure you’re not holding resentment for one another, and to have an idea of what compromise looks like after a conflict. Some of the habits you have after a fight may be habits you don’t want. These could be modeled from the way you are raised or defence mechanisms you’ve learned over time. Instead of being judgmental or attacking about these, sit down with your partner and ask, how could I have said this differently that would have resulted in a different outcome or solution?
The goal of every fight is reconciliation. How can couples repair trust and begin reconciliation process after a fight? The most important thing you can do is go to the source: once you’ve calmed down, give some space and time, and come back together to really discuss what needs to be different in the future. Repeat arguments are frustrating, so you don’t want to bring up the past, but if you find you’re arguing about the same things, you may feel resentment. Problem solve your conflicts together. If you’re a couple that’s decided to move forward as a united front, come at it from the place as a team.
If you’re looking for more great resources and healthy strategies for fighting, including a rich discussion on how social media can often times complicate fighting, log on to the Big Change of Heart podcast, click on episode 46, and listen along!
As a Relationship Advisor, Dr. Jennelle offers support, guidance, and advice on the matters of the heart that matter most to you. Dr. Jennelle specializes in working with female same-sex couples, divorced/remarried couples, and blended families while always focusing on the partnership; helping relationships thrive throughout all of life’s crazy transitions (e.g., sexual preference shifts, divorce, moving in together, having a baby, blending families, changing careers, financial shifts, etc.). With over 10+ years of psychology education and a lifetime of personal experience following a nontraditional path, Dr. Jennelle advises through various platforms including a free, private community on Facebook (the Big Change of Heart Community) and her weekly podcast (the Big Change of Heart Podcast). Dr. Jennelle also provides her services one-on-one for couples and individuals in addition to both live and online classes and workshops. Life is ever-evolving and Dr. Jennelle believes it is her job to make sure your relationships evolve along with it. Connect with Dr. Jennelle on Facebook @ Dr. Jennelle or contact her directly here.