Fair Fighting Rules: How to Communicate Better with Your Loved One in Recovery

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man touching arm of female while she looks away upset

All families and friends argue from time to time, but when conflict escalates into fighting, it can take a severe toll on your relationship. And chances are that if your loved one is in recovery, your relationship has already been hurt by their addiction. Don’t let small arguments turn into angry words that spill out and cause permanent damage. Next time you find yourself in an argument, implement the tips below and start practicing more effective communication with your loved ones.

Ask yourself why you feel upset.

When your loved one does something that hurts or angers you, it’s easy to bite back—accusatory language, fighting words, and petty insults come naturally when we’re feeling upset. But just as learning to better manage their emotions is critical to your loved one’s recovery, it is also important that you learn to manage yours. Without proper communication, repairing your relationship from the damage caused by addiction is impossible. So, next time you are tempted to start an argument, take a moment to ask yourself what is really bothering you. Are you really upset that your loved one didn’t take out the trash or didn’t respond to your text, or are there underlying issues that are causing this situation to escalate?

Sometimes our emotions are secondary responses to a bigger conflict. Anger is often a secondary emotion, triggered by a primary feeling of hurt, misunderstanding, or even jealousy. Sometimes, the secondary emotion takes over our brain because it’s an easier feeling for us to process in the moment. If your frustration originated from a negative comment a loved one said that hurt your feelings, you might want to talk to your loved one about that exchange. Chances are, feeling abandoned, sad, or anxious might’ve triggered your anger in the first place.

Decide what you want from this conversation.

Have you ever had an argument spiral so far out of control that you no longer knew what you were fighting about, you just knew you were angry? This happens when you let your emotions take over. Arguing for the sake of arguing won’t get you anywhere. So, before you talk to your loved one, decide what outcome you are hoping for.

Having an end goal for your conversation will help keep you focused, as well as help you stick to boundaries you may have already established. If you are some who has trouble expressing your feelings, write them out beforehand, and really work through your intentions. Some conflicts don’t need to be had, while others nag at us for a while, waiting to come out. Instead of saying something hurtful in the moment or finding yourself unable to articulate your thoughts, set yourself up for success. Practice in the mirror. Rehearse what you want to say with a friend. Discuss the issue with your therapist. Write yourself a script. Make an effort to be present and be accountable for what you want.

Focus on the issue at hand.

If you’re upset that your loved one isn’t taking care of their share of the housework, then discuss that issue and work on a solution before moving on to anything else that may be bothering you. While your anger may tempt you to list everything they have ever done to upset you, this won’t make them realize that they need to be more responsible and clean up after themselves. Instead, this can make them feel attacked, cause them to get defensive, and render your conversation pointless.

Do not use degrading language.

A key to effective conflict resolution is separating the person from the problem. Name-calling, put-downs, and swearing are counter-productive and can quickly turn into a screaming match. Degrading language only makes your loved one feel as bad as you do and doesn’t help them understand why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. It’s important that you’re honest with your loved one about your feelings and what is causing them.

Use “I” statements to communicate your thoughts; these sentences are structured to emphasize a personal feeling, and aims to not spearhead the conversation into accusatory language. Start your statements with how the situation makes you feel and why. Saying things like, “I get angry when you don’t respond to my texts because I get worried that something may have happened to you” is more productive than calling someone selfish and self-absorbed for never answering your messages.

Take turns talking.

This is a conversation, not a lecture. Your loved one’s thoughts and feelings are just as important as yours, and you should give them the opportunity to express them. Try your best to not interrupt. This isn’t always easy, so using a timer and allowing each person to talk for a couple of minutes at a time can be helpful. And of course, don’t just let them speak; truly listen to what they are saying and try to understand where they are coming from.

Take some space if necessary.

When tempers rise, it’s easy to lash out and end up saying or doing something you’ll later regret. So, if your anger is getting the best of you, take a time-out from the conversation to gain control of your emotions and reorganize your thoughts. Remember who you’re fighting with—someone you love and care about. The objective of any argument should always be to resolve the conflict, and effective self-regulation helps.

Self-regulation is the act of listening your body’s distress, targeting negative emotions, and finding healthy coping mechanisms to calm down. This can include decompressing by going for a walk or listening to music, or writing out your thoughts on paper. Taking space to be alone doesn’t mean the conversation is over—it just means you’re working on yourself first before you’re ready to continue the conversation.

Work together to find a solution.

If you give each other a chance to speak open and honestly, chances are that you will have a better understanding of what is causing your issues. Work together to try to find a solution.

Let’s say the issue is that your loved one doesn’t respond to your texts and it worries you, but the reason for this is because they are busy with work. Together, come up with a check-in schedule that works for both of you. Maybe they send you a quick text when they get to work, during lunch, and when they’re heading home. This way, you know they’re okay and they can focus on work. While not every issue will be as easy to solve or fixable overnight, acknowledging that there is a problem and creating a plan to solve it is a great first step.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.