Stop the Fight is an illustrated relationship guide that helps couples literally see their way out of repetitive arguments. Clinical psychologist Michelle Brody, PhD, has developed a way to make changing from conflict to resolution easier, with drawings and diagrams to help visualize what creates tension, and how to get out. It's easy to read, and easy to understand, which makes it easy to apply to the regular issues that many couples have.
I had a chance to interview her to learn more.
Why did you decide to write this book?
As I work as a couples therapist I found myself drawing a lot in my sessions with clients – as a couple explained their fight, I'd sketch a quick diagram of I was understanding. At some point I started to share what I was doodling with my clients and it made a big difference. Clients would say, "YES! That is what is happening between us...that is how we are stuck!" Suddenly, vehemently disagreeing partners could agree on at least one thing – the picture was a fair representation of both sides of the fight. They could start to see why it was genuinely hard to break out of the vicious cycle. And, once they could see the big picture of the fight, it helped loosen the knot they were entangled in. After drawing similar pictures again and again with different couples, a few things became clear. First, that couples fights have some predictable patterns that are similar from couple to couple. And, that seeing the fight in a drawing can provide a pretty quick opening into stopping it. I got excited about sharing the pictures more broadly so that more couples could benefit - and that led to the plan to write this book.
One of the big reasons couples fight is different parenting styles. How can parents avoid this being a source of major tension?
I think the answer to this come with a deeper question.What is the motivator behind each of the differing styles? Once we understand that, we can understand what is at stake for each partner. Take a difference in style between one parent who takes a more disciplined approach to parenting, and one who takes a more relaxed approach. I’d want to understand- why do they each want to take those approaches? If I'm super disciplined and want that for my child because I know it provides me with organization and productivity, but my partner is super relaxed and wants to teach the kids that being laid back is valuable for less stress – we could run into some tension as we try to teach our two different lessons at the same time. But sometimes if we can connect on a more neutral message that we want to transmit to kids, we can stop the fight. Here’s one for the couple I just described: “We value BOTH organization/productivity AND the ability to be flexible/laid back. There’s a tension between these things sometimes, but both of us want you kids to learn BOTH” This is a joint, collaborative mindset. Kids can learn that Mom tends more toward the laid back and Dad more toward the disciplined – that helps them know that both are valuable. Recognizing that you are teaching a joint message helps parents not fight over which value is more important – both are.
How do fights tend to fall into vicious cycles?
When a moment of tension comes up, each partner tries to solve the tension in the way that makes most sense to them, and it is those solutions that often create a problem for the other partner – hence, the vicious cycle. For example, Jane feels a bit distant from Nate and tries to get closer by asking him why he is mad at her, but at the same time, Nate is feeling pestered by Jane’s questions and tries to cope by taking some distance from her. The more a couple can RECOGNIZE the cycle they are creating, the more able they can be to get out of it. hat’s why my book is filled with pictures of the most typical cycles that people get stuck in.
Money and sex are two other big points of conflict? Why is that?
Why would good people ever want to fight? Fighting is the most natural response when you aren’t getting what you need. You fight for it. It comes from a positive intention. It’s just that how we ask for or press for what we need often makes a partner feel badly. And then he or she wants to press for what they need – and off we go on a fight. If Bart needs financial security, he will fight for it, but if his partner Sam wants autonomy to decide how to use his money, they will find themselves fighting against each other. The key to stopping a fight like that is to recognize that the underlying feelings are both justified, and the couple has to figure out how to meet both of them – in this case, financial security and autonomy.
Why is it so important to resolve conflict well in a long-term relationship?You can’t really avoid conflict in a relationship, so it’s not worth trying to. When it happens, as it does to all of us, the key is to repair from it. It’s the repairs that add up to security and trust in a relationship. If you know you can repair from difficulties, you’ve got something strong. If you don’t try to repair it in good time, you both begin to believe that repair is impossible, and over time that dooms a relationship.
About the Author
Michelle Brody, PhD, is an executive coach and clinical psychologist with over 20 years of professional experience as a practicing therapist and a specialist in resolving relational conflict. Her background also includes extensive experience in teaching, coaching, and scientific research. She has served for more than a decade as a senior trainer for psychologists and as a business consultant, teaching others what will (and won't) catalyze lasting change. Dr. Brody is the founder of Coaching for Couples, an innovative practice for couples seeking time-efficient change.