Are you fighting clean or dirty? Are your disagreements with your sweetie mud-slinging spats? Boxing matches? Do you launch into extended, heated debates where the main purpose is verbal one-upmanship? Or do you or your partner disengage, go silent, and sulk? Have you lost your senses or forgotten the true purpose of disagreements with your spouse? Let’s take the boxing gloves off and have a good look at how you and your lover are expressing differences of opinion. And then let’s reevaluate and look for better, more constructive ways to approach and settle familial discord.
Why Couples Fight
You’re not getting your needs met, that’s why you fight. Plain and simple. Unmet needs will fester and then ooze or pop for resolution in some form. If you ignore the source of your anger or refuse to bring it to your mate’s attention, like a sore, it can become infected and create unexpected eruptions or consequences … a sharp tone to your voice, being argumentative in subtle or unrelated ways, distancing yourself, withdrawing intimacy. Your bad attitude can become habit-forming and after a while, can cause the erosion of a relationship ... a marriage.
As unpleasant as it may seem, fighting is part of the relationship. (Not physical fighting, of course.) In fact, if you don’t fight, there might be something seriously wrong. But there’s fair fighting and there’s below-the-belt fighting, totally unproductive fighting. They can often overlap. Most experts in relationships agree (myself included) that one of the best predictors of divorce isn’t whether a couple fights, but HOW they fight.
Why Fighting Fair is So Important
Fighting fair can save a relationship. That can happen when you both end up getting what you need from it – or get close enough. Finishing a fight productively brings clarity. It brings you closer. It can fuel the flames of desire, intimacy, and connection like few things in a relationship. It’s the calm after the storm that confirms that you’ve made it through, intact. You’ve gotten things off your chest. You’ve aired the dirty laundry you were hesitant to air. All is well. What a relief! What an exhilarating feeling!
Rules of Engagement
In a fight with your mate – unlike a war – all is NOT fair in love and war. Unfair fighting means you’re acting only in your own best interests, not those of your mate’s. In a war, anything is fair game because the object is for one side to win. That’s not what a relationship is about.
The objective of fair fighting is to come to a mutual agreement without shouting and drama. We all need refreshers in this every now and then. Here are some rules of engagement. Practice these when you fight and reduce the chances of communication breaking down:
· Attack the issue, not each other. That’s unfair fighting. Examples: “You always do this kind of thing to me.” “I knew you would forget if I trusted you with that. Name-calling. Insults. What’s fair? Speak for yourself and your feelings, not your partner’s. Use “I” statements. “I feel that you don’t listen when I speak to you,” not “You don’t listen to a word I say.”
· Don’t fear or withdraw from conflict. But if your mate withdraws, don’t force them to engage. Do get a promise to discuss things later when they have calmed down or have more time to devote to the fight.
· Watch your language and tone. Don’t attack or curse. Own your own feelings. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t be an abusive bully. Dominating, competitive. Talk about your emotions, don’t act on them. Disagreements are emotional. It’s good to want to understand but don’t overanalyze. If you’re analytical in finding solutions you’re not getting at the root of the problem.
· Be open and accepting of differences of opinion, other points of view. Cooperate. Accept that no one is perfect. Don’t play mind games (passive-aggressive). Don’t minimize the issue. Don’t belittle. Don’t be a score-keeper. Pay attention. Ask for clarification if unclear.
· Be open about your needs. Be clear about what you’re disagreeing about. Stay with the issue; don’t sidetrack or go around in circles. Avoid generalizing. Don’t bring up past history.
· Say you’re sorry if you’re in the wrong. Find something to compromise on. Find common ground.
· Finish the fight. Get resolution now. Don’t stomp out the door or go to bed mad.
Unfair and Dysfunctional Fighting Tactics
For comparison, here are some unfair fighting tactics. If you’re doing any of these, stop!:
· Playing the martyr
· Avoiding or denying there’s a problem, stonewalling
· Walking away.
· Taking a black and white/right or wrong attitude
· Manipulating. Passive-aggressive. Silent treatment.
Doing a Reset
The tip-off to fair fighting is when it feels like a discussion or debate, not a fight. Fighting with your sweetheart is also different from fighting with someone outside the family circle. You live with this person. You’re intimate with this person. You made a pact – formal or informal – to be partners in life. Fighting doesn’t mean your relationship is on the rocks. Welcome fighting as an opportunity to do a reset or an adjustment in your relationship.