August 29, 2002
Dr. Phil says that the way couples end a fight is the number one predictor of whether their relationship will last. He sits down to explain more about his rules of fighting and why fighting fair is so crucial.
Q: Do couples fight because there are issues or are they fighting to be right?
A: Look, when you see couples going back and forth, oftentimes we’re planting the same ground over and over. It’s because two things. Number one, they are talking about topics instead of issues, and number two, they are not really dealing with things to the point of resolution. It’s just a venting process. When you want to resolve things, it’s not about venting. It’s not about yelling and screaming. It’s about saying, ‘OK, I want to deal with the real issue of what’s going on here. And I really want to hear what my partner is saying. I’m not here to be right. I want to be happy. I want to be successful.’ So you look for that common ground.
Q: In this episode, you talk through a hidden earpiece and coach each spouse on what to say. This is an interesting technique. What was the purpose of this exercise?
A: The purpose of being a bug in the ear of this really interesting couple was to help them right their reactive patterns. Both of them just had automatic responses when their partner would say something. What I wanted to do is give them a new way of doing a few important things. Number one: staying on point. Let’s not wander around and digress into character assassination. Number two, continue to listen and look for a responsive answer that can bring back some hope of resolution. And number three, don’t take them back. In other words, don’t let them get you into anger and out of a problem-solving mindset. So I was in the ear trying to give my flash perspective of what to think and say.
Q: If a couple fights, does that mean their relationship is a failure?
A: Fighting is a part of any relationship. You are not ever going to merge or share your life with someone and not have conflict. There is plenty of adjustment. It’s not whether you fight that’s going to determine the success or failure of your relationship; it’s how you fight. More specifically, it’s how you end a fight. We have found that if you know one thing about a couple, you can predict with great degree of accuracy whether they’re going to get a divorce or whether they’re not, and that one thing is how they end a fight. Do they end it with character assassination, name calling, accusations and ridicule, not allowing their partner to retreat with dignity? Or do they end it in a constructive way looking for a solution? If it’s character assassination, it bodes ill for the future. If it’s to allow them to retreat with dignity, even if you’re right, then you’re going to get a much better outcome. I guarantee you.