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Choose Your Battles: Fighting Less in Relationships

“A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone.” ~Richard Carlson

Have you ever been in a relationship that seemed more like work than fun? Where every day you seemed to have a new issue to discuss?

Maybe it had to do with little miscommunications, or an ongoing dispute, or a difference of opinion that regularly complicated your daily interactions.

Whatever it was, you always found yourself wanting to hash things out to get everything back to normal.

Except that was normal—conflict, friction, and disagreement; you just held out hope that maybe it could change.

I had a friendship like this a few years back. We really got each other, and that’s a big part of why we grew close.

But we also got on each other’s nerves on a near-daily basis. In retrospect, I see that our two personalities came together to create something toxic.

It was like the perfect storm of insecurities and and egos colliding; our collapse may have always been a matter of time. But I also realize we both created drama where it didn’t need to be.

We made everything an issue.

I’ve since learned that healthy relationships require a little discernment as to what’s a problem and what’s just small stuff; and that sometimes, the instinct to sweat all that small stuff is a sign of a bigger problem—that the relationship may just not be right.

Not sure why so much annoys you? There could be any number of reasons. One of these problems may seem familiar, and one of these solutions may help.

Problem 1:

You’re harboring resentment or anger, but instead of expressing what you really feel, you pick at the little things.

The Solution:

Take some time to get to the root of your feelings. What’s really bothering you? Sure, those unwashed dishes and slow email responses are annoying, but what’s the bigger issue?

Do you fear the person doesn’t respect you? Do their actions seem to confirm your fear that you are somehow unworthy? Are you holding a grudge over something big that happened two years ago?

Ask yourself if there’s a bigger conversation you need to have—something you need to say that you didn’t, or perhaps something you need to work out in your own head.

Once you release the weight of the big underlying issue, you won’t feel so angered by the little surface-level annoyances that occur in every relationship.

Problem 2:

You’re dealing with stresses unrelated to the relationship, so you vent that stress where you easily can: on the people closest to you.

The Solution:

Ask yourself: What’s causing me to feel irritable so frequently—in what ways am I overextended and unbalanced, and what do I need to do to change that?

It might mean allowing yourself more space to meet your own needs (instead of always being there for other people). It might mean taking care of yourself a little better, mentally, emotionally, and physically, so you don’t feel drained so frequently.

Or it might have to do with the amount of time you work. Perhaps you’re pushing yourself too hard, pressuring yourself to do and be more, which makes you feel edgy and anxious.

Once you address your own issues, you won’t create as many in your relationship; in this way prioritizing your needs helps both you and your connections.

Problem 3:

You have an idealized vision of what love and friendship should look like, so you fight whenever something happens that doesn’t fit within that vision.

The Solution:

Ask yourself if you could meet your own standards for love.

The little things that are bothering you—have you done those same things before? How would you like someone to respond to you when you make those little mistakes?

This isn’t the same as allowing someone to treat your poorly. This is recognizing when those little things really aren’t signs of that, but rather an indication that someone else is human and doing the best they can.

If you flip it around, you can focus more on giving the kind of love you want to receive than bemoaning the love you think you’re not getting—which, incidentally, may help you get more of that back.

Problem 4:

All of your relationships involve constant drama. This is the only way you know how to be in a relationship of any kind, and you may even look for problems when there’s nothing to fight about.

The Solution:

If you grew up around chaos, you may actually feel more secure when you’re yelling, getting yelled at, and making up. It might even feel uncomfortable to have a day without any friction.

Challenge yourself to sit with your feelings so you can learn to minimize your internal drama. When you work on releasing your anxious energy, you’ll be able to explore what relationships can look and feel like with out it.

You may only experience this for short lengths of time at first, but if you work at it every day, that time will increase. You’ll slowly start feeling more secure in enjoying the other person’s company, and less of a need to model this relationship after others that hinged around fighting.

If the issue is more about liking the excitement that drama creates, focus on creating excitement in other ways: do something new and adventurous (on your own or together). Make yourself feel alive without needing to fight someone to feel it.

Problem 5:

You’re in a relationship that’s not good for you, but you feel too scared to leave, so instead you stay and express irritation over all kinds of minor annoyances.

The Solution:

This is the hard one—where it’s not about choosing your battles, but about recognizing it’s time to stop fighting the truth.

It won’t be easy, but you need to be honest with yourself about whether or not you really want to be in this relationship. It might help to ask yourself: If I knew I could find something more fulfilling by walking away, would I? Do I feel like this relationship (or friendship) leads to more pain than joy?

A lot of people won’t even ask themselves these questions, because once you know you’re compromising yourself to stay with a sure/safe thing, you only have two options: continue doing that and feel even worse about yourself, or find the strength to walk away and open yourself up to something better.

This is by no means easy to do, but if you can be honest with yourself, then you can move to the second part: Tell someone else.

Tell a friend that you need help and support to find the courage to walk away. You might not have the strength or trust that this is the right decision, but someone else who loves you will help you get through the scary part, if you’re willing to let them.

These are some of the top reasons we turn relationships into war zones. There will be times when the other people in our lives do these same things. Hopefully we can inspire them to be more self-aware by modeling what that looks like.

Of course, there may be times when we have a legitimate issue that we need to address—when it truly isn’t “small stuff.” If we’ve chosen our battles wisely it will be much easier to work through these tough times together.

Photo by JumpyMonky

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook seriesTiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions. She's also co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow on Twitter & Facebook.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Dochy

    Hey Lori, All your posts seem to ring so true to me! You have dissected the possible problems in a relationship SO beautifully! I was in a battlefield of a relationship till sometime ago… Like most, it started out very well, but then due to various reasons, we just couldn’t gel well… I am a very positive person (sometimes to a fault, if thats even possible!!!) and my partners negativity and depression just got to me after 4 years… It was an extremely difficult decision that I had to take – just like you’ve said in your post – either remain this way for life, or walk away… I’m out now; I was very angry for sometime after the breakup, angry at why many things were not the way I want, and were the way they were… But now, I’m kinda at peace.. .I don’t have this constant ticking in the back of my mind, I feel free… And I’ve realized that good relationships are supposed to do exactly that – make you feel free! Thanks for this brilliatn post! Keep sharing your wisdom with the world! :)

  • M Sonnier

    I went through this exact same situation with a friend a couple of years ago. We were always arguing over small stuff, and there was a lot of negative energy.

    I ultimately walked away because the friendship was causing more pain than joy, but looking back, I wish I would’ve handled my anger and frustration differently.

    These are all wonderful tips.

    <3 Madison

  • Katie

    After just having a HUGE fight with my best friend, this rings very true. It would devastate me if our friendship ended. It would devastate me even more if it were my fault (which, as experience tells me, it almost always is). My insecurity and lack of faith in our relationship really take a toll on him. I am learning EVERY DAY to control that his decisions aren’t ABOUT me or BECAUSE of me. They are about him. I take everything so personally, and then I get jealous, and then we fight. He always tells me it’s so silly, which infuriates me (at the time), but he’s absolutely right. They are silly. I need to have faith that he’s there for me, and I need to value myself. There is so much more to this, but I’ll stop. I just wanted to say that this post has helped a lot. And I’m going to refer to it at least on a weekly basis.

  • Jopalis

    Great article….Perfect timing. Holidays can be stressful and can help magnify things in a relationship. Would love to win your book……

  • VItamin D

    Saving this one – great questions to ask and ground with in any relatiionship.

  • Wendy

    All your post help me a great deal , I have one of these toxic relationships and it has been for at least 11 years now with my husband , I wish it was different

  • Acec

    Lori, you’ve written a lot about toxic relationships – but usually it’s about the other person being toxic, and how to leave one. What if you’ve realized you’re the one being toxic? I would dearly love to read an article – or a series – about that. Regards a fan of the site.

  • Guest

    Hi Acec, Hi Lori! Great question and I’d love to hear Lori’s (and anyone
    else’s) thoughts too. Thought I’d jump in with my own as I’ve been
    writing about this topic all day – just stopped for a Tiny Buddha break!
    The best way I know of to deal with what you refer to as your own toxic
    behavior is to not communicate when you’re feeling toxic, let your
    mood calm down and then address the issue. It sounds a bit simplistic I
    know, but is incredibly powerful. The ‘toxicness’ just happens when you
    listen to your critical thoughts and act on them. Your thoughts,
    especially critical ones, are not real so best to just notice them and
    get on with your day and wait until a better mood arrives to deal with
    whatever you think is the problem. And frankly, there often isn’t one! Can be challenging at first but worth the effort – your mind will convince you that what it’s thinking is real! My last article covered some of this too. Hope that helps! Lisa. XX

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Madison. I think it’s a tough, because it’s a two-way street, but like you, I’ve realized in retrospect that there was a lot I could have done differently in a few past relationships. I suspect if I’d made a better effort, the other people would have responded to me differently. We live, we learn!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so glad this helped you Katie! I could relate to a lot of what you wrote, as I’ve had issues with insecurity and jealousy, and it’s affected some of my relationships as well. I think when we’re feeling insecure, it affects what we see in other people, and what meaning we attach to their actions. When in doubt, I remind myself to look within instead of looking out. Often the real problem is what’s going on in my head; not what’s in front of me.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thank you so much! I know, the holiday season is an emotionally charged time. I’m so glad this was helpful to you!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much. I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so sorry to hear about your marriage Wendy. Have you guys gone to couple’s therapy, or tried other approaches to improve your relationship?

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much Dochy! I know how it hard it can be to walk away, but you’re living proof that you can make that brave decision and be happier and better off for it!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Acec,

    I will plan to write something about this! I was actually hoping to touch on that idea somewhat with this post, specifically as it pertains to our instinct to create unnecessary drama with people.

    Can you tell me more about how you’re defining toxic here? Are you talking about being negative, or combative, or…? There may be an existing post that could help as well. The post Lisa mentioned could help a great deal:

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-maintain-a-healthy-relationship-when-youre-depressed/

    Lori

  • Pam Picard – Reinventing 64

    Hi Lori, happy holidays! I’d add another ingredient to the toxic stew – having to be right about everything instead of wanting to be happy. That makes “right fights” the standard dynamic. OY What a headache. Stop. Just stop. What a relief when you do. And pretty soon you realize that your rapport was poor because you made it so. xoxoxo Pam

  • OhioSibling

    Hi Lori,

    Thank you for this post, it really got me thinking on how I can improve certain relationships in my life that I feel are otherwise hopeless. I am really struggling trying to deal with my older sister. She is a nice person at heart, but has a very overpowering personality and has a way of maybe unintentionally but I feel selfishly unloading all her drama on everyone in our family, especially our parents and me as well because I am temporarily living at home while I pay off my loans. I resent this and it makes me so angry because she is a fully grown adult and should contain her issues. Even though she can be nice at times, is lively, and is generous (buys us things etc.), I find her actions to annoy me more than most because they are usually a result of thoughtlessness. I also feel like her “niceness” is her way of making up for her intense drama filled and sometimes hateful episodes where she will resurrect everyone’s insecurities, attack them, and blame everyone else for her issues – like my mom, dad etc. It makes me not want to accept any of her gestures of kindness because they always come with an expectation – kind of like “I did such and such for you, and you can’t even do such and such for me etc.” Also, if I do accept any of her nice gestures, she just throws it back in my face a week later when we inevitably get into a fight. I find that around her especially I don’t like who i become. I am irritable, and just try to avoid her because of the bad feelings and energy it usually stirs in me. With her it seems to be the opposite, she can get into a horrible fight, and she will be completely fine in an hour or so.

    She is my sister and she has always been like this as long as I can remember. I dont believe she is a bad person but when I am around her I feel like our personalities just make each other even worse. Part of me wants nothing to do with her anymore, but that isn’t really an option since I am at home and since she just moved back home indefinitely because she isn’t getting along with her new husband. I’m not sure what to do to make things better for all of us. I’ve tried telling her but our relationship is not on great terms as it is, and she just thinks I am being mean. I also find it really difficult to not feel angry and resentful toward her but am not sure how to change these feelings inside myself.

    Any suggestions you have are always appreciated. Thank you.

    - OhioSibling

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Ah yes–that’s a big one! I’ve been on both sides of that equation. And yes, it’s a tremendous relief to let go of that need to make someone else wrong.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there,

    I’m sorry to hear about what you’ve been dealing with. It sounds like you feel it’s an unbalanced relationship, and I can understand why that would be frustrating. I wrote a post about dealing with negative people that may be helpful to you:

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-negative-people-or-difficult-people/

    I hope this helps!

    Lori

  • lv2terp

    Fantastic blog Lori, these problems are so common, with a wonderful solution for each!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much, and you’re most welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ladyann-Marie/100001040397894 Ladyann Marie

    Thank you Lori…thank you

  • himanshu saini

    i want to die .. i have a fail realtionship my ex cheated me everyday i see her happy and i did everything for her . i left job for her evrything i can do i did for her .. when she moved to new loacation she changed . she earning and i m unemployed and she suddenly changed and not want to talk to me everyday i texting her . i req her on my knee .. i want to die . i have nothing

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Himanshu,

    I’m so sorry to hear about what’s happened–and I’m worried for you. Are you seriously considering taking your life? Can you promise me you will call a hotline if you start seriously considering it? http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

    I know it may seem like you have nothing, but I promise you that you won’t feel this way forever. You just need to find some support while you move through this difficult time. Are there any friends or family members who you can lean on right now?

    Much love,
    Lori

  • Jay

    If you answered yes to the first question in problem 5, how do you know that you’re not just holding unrealistic expectations as to what is out there? E.g. if you would walk away from your current partner if you knew there was something better out there, how do you discern if there is in fact something better out there and you’re not just wishing there was? Im struggling with broken trust and a lot of fear stemming from my own insecurities which is causing me to become annoyed and hurt by the little things. I dont know if I should walk away in hope there is something better, or stay and wait it out to see if it can be repaired.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Jay,

    I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. I’ve been there before, and I know it’s not easy.

    I think it might help to think about leaving the relationship independent of finding a new one–so it’s not about leaving because there’s better out there, but leaving, if you choose, because you’ve decided it can’t be repaired.

    If you decide to stay primarily because you’re scared that you may end up alone, you may end up coming to resent your partner anyways. Deep down, we all want more than the security of having someone. We want someone we feel is right for us. But the only way to create the possibility of finding that is to leave the situation that we know feels wrong.

    As for how to know if it can be repaired, I think that comes down to time and instinct–putting in the effort, and being honest with yourself if you have the sense it’s not working out.

    I hope this helps a little…

    Lori