Dr. Elson Haas
written by
Dr. Elson Haas

Jul 16, 2022

How to get Along and Not Get Along

Adapted from Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine

by Elson Haas, MD


Stress and Relationships

Along with work and finances, relationships are often a primary source of stress. It is important that we each know how to handle and respond to the demands and emotions we experience and that we also learn how to access feelings and express them in positive ways to our loved ones, co-workers, friends and our one and only selves.


This begins with making statements that do not blame or attack another, but rather state more clearly how something affects us, how we feel, and how we wish to be acknowledged or treated. One example is a husband or child who doesn’t clean up after himself and leaves a mess in the kitchen or dishes around the house. You could easily say, “Why are you such a slob? If you don’t do X, then I am going to do Y.” That person may feel attacked and may either retreat hurtfully, or be defensive with a snide comment and begin an outright fight. Another approach would be to say, “I am feeling the stress of caring for this household. I am asking you to help me please by putting your dishes in the sink and doing the dishes a few times a week. I will greatly appreciate that. Thank you.” That has more likelihood of getting a positive response and action. When feeling attacked, it’s natural to react defensively and protect our selves, or run and hide as in the “fight or flight” response. Any retaliation usually snowballs and soon we have a shouting match, or all out war. When we expect some resistance or a possible fight about some topic, my policy is often to begin by asking or stating, “I would really like your support in this situation.” This engages the other person and the innate need to be helpful, appreciated and loved.


One important skill to develop (and I have shared this over the years with patients and the staff at our medical center) is “Learn the difference between a reaction and a response.” A reaction is typically a defense response—often instinctual—whereby we attempt to protect our self, our emotions and point of view. Often in this state we have not really heard or received what the other has expressed. Plus, we may feel we are made to look wrong and may attack another. A response suggests that we actually took in the communications of the other person, processed them, and responded with some thoughts and feelings; thus, we managed our behavior with some intelligence and care. Aspects involve taking turns speaking and fully listening, and then acknowledging what you heard before responding. Then there is less defensiveness and trying to talk over the other person.

“Beyond compromise is cooperation.” Argisle


This whole process is so crucial to healthy relationships, long-term marriages, and really all communications. Of course, our ability to manage stress also depends upon the choices we have made regarding personal and business relationships—the people with whom we have chosen to devote our lives, and the level to which each of these relationships can grow with conscious nourishment. The wiser and clearer we are in our choices, the smoother the relationship ride we will experience, and the more enjoyable and loving it will be for all involved. And when we have not chosen wisely, admit it and move forward as best you can. Relationships and the challenges therein is where we often learn the most about ourselves.

 Fair Fighting

The Art and Technique of Peacefully “Not” Getting Along!

Fighting can cause pain and often comes from reaction and defensiveness; listening and responding from a level of understanding helps to keep love alive. We can still disagree with our loved ones or co-workers, yet it doesn’t mean we have to battle with them. It’s better to learn and incorporate methods and develop some level of emotional command to encourage better understanding and healing. “Fair fighting” is a technique I mention to my patients when they struggle with a spouse, for example. This also relates to a process called the Socratic Dialogue as described in The Dialogue Game by Peter Winchell. Fair fighting can help us resolve important differences or accept how they are.

“Tit for tat, my this, your that.”

“Let’s play each other’s part in clear and healing communication.”

“No one to blame, no shame to tame; you’re the winner in your life’s game.”  

“Less struggle, more snuggle.”                                                                                                                               Argisle


Some Guidelines for Fair Fighting:

  • Embrace personal respect and care for one another; this is mutuality/equanimity.
  • Take turns and let each other speak without interruption and listen while they are talking, not rehearsing what you are going to say next. You can use a “talking stick”— whoever holds it gets to speak; when they are done, they pass it on.
  • Set time limits for each person’s turn or the total dialogue.
  • When it’s your turn, acknowledge what you heard the other say.
  • State how you think and feel—not the “blame game” making the other wrong.
  • No name-calling, threats or ultimatums, yet create clear boundaries.
  • Compassion is a key for the goals of understanding and mutual support; put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  • Look toward healing solutions and realize that there are always two sides (at least) to any argument, and the solution lies in the cooperation (some say compromise yet that suggests giving up rather than giving something) between the people involved.
  • Dare to share your care, even when not in agreement.
  • Avoid trying to resolve things when under the influence of alcohol or other substances; anger and reactivity are more predominant with alcohol.

What about counseling?

Reviewing your issues with a therapist experienced in listening and reflecting back to you can help you begin to process and heal. Venting sessions can get out some feelings. Also, couples’ sessions can be extremely useful at working through conflicts. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should give up our instincts and abilities to “react” appropriately should we need to, but managing “reaction vs. response” is a key to reducing chronic stress in our lives, and an important part of preventive health.


Love Yourself, Love One Another.


Stay Healthy


Dr. Elson Haas