Have you ever been at a party and overheard a couple say, “Oh, we never fight!” Don’t believe them! In this article I will show you ten rules for fighting fair.
Couples fight! We will be married 47 years this August, and we have had our fair share of fights. As a matter of fact, we had a pretty good one yesterday, as I recall it had to do with my being distracted by my new iPhone. The good news is that over the years, we have learned to fight fair. One of the traits of a resilient marriage is the ability to manage conflict.
Did you know that most of what we fight about really doesn’t matter? As a matter of fact, Dr. John Gottman, the leading authority says, “Our research has shown 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them — these problems are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are either fundamental differences in your personalities that repeatedly create conflict or fundamental differences in your lifestyle needs. [i]
The key to fighting fair is to maintain control. You do not have the right to be immature, childish, or abusive. If you do have legitimate feelings and issues, you are entitled to give a reasonable voice to those feelings in a constructive way. (That includes not being self-righteous or taking yourself too seriously.
So here are 10 Rules for Fighting Fair.
Make it private and keep it private. Fighting in front of your kids is nothing short
Deal with the issue at hand. Keep it relevant. Stay on task! Focus on the problems rather than attacking each other. Don’t bring up old issues or grudges when they are not a part of the solution. Put boundaries around the subject so it won’t turn into a free-for-all. Limit the discussion to the one issue at the center of the conflict.
Stay in the room emotionally, keep it real. Deal with them, not with symptoms. Tell your spouse what is bothering you. Focus on the issue rather than the attack! When people are involved in a conflict, it is easy to feel flooded and overwhelmed, here is one quick free way to make sure you are staying in the room. Check your pulse if it around one hundred, 80 if you are athletic, then step back take a few moments and attempt to re-engage.
Eliminate “You never,” “You always.” These phrases will always lead to someplace you really don’t want to go.
Avoid character assassination like the plague. Stay focused on the issue rather than ripping into your spouse’s personality, family, or past.
Don’t “mind read!” Have you ever said or heard, “I know what you are thinking?” If you have, then consider yourself duly busted. If you are not sure what your partner meant by something they said, ask for clarification. Because asking for clarification always adds bonus points by slowing the conversation down. It lets your partner know that you are really trying to connect and understand.
Stay on task! The mission is to resolve to conflict and come out with a “win-win” not an “I win you lose” outcome.
Be proportional in your intensity. You don’t kill a fly with a cannon. There are basically only two types of problems people have – solvable and unsolvable (or not solvable right now.) Everything that you disagree on is not an earth-shattering issue. Remember, you don’t have to get mad and upset every time you have a cause to be.
Commit yourself to openness, honesty, and acceptance. This will help you relax, listen, and give feedback.
Allow yourself and your partner to retreat and/or regroup with dignity. How a fight ends is crucial. Recognize when an olive branch is being offered to you (it might be disguised as an apology or a joke) and give each other a face-saving way out of the disagreement.
Are you serious about improving your relationship? If you are, I want to challenge you to review this article and pick two or three specific things you can do to make your next fight more productive.
If you would be interested in relationship coaching shoot me an email and we can set up a free assessment call.
Be sure to let me know what you are going to do in the comments.