Perhaps you are thinking that a marriage counselor and relationship coach shouldn’t be teaching you to fight with your partner. Now, while I’d love it if couples didn’t fight, we all know that conflict is a part of life and it WILL happen. When conflict arises, it’s important that you at least are fighting fairly. It increases the probability the conflict gets resolved more productively. Conflict resolution means playing by the rules.
Rules for Fair Fighting:
- Do not try to problem solve or resolve long standing issues under the influence. I cannot tell you how often couples in therapy share that things went south in a big way and fast when one or both partners had been drinking or using drugs. This doesn’t ever end well. Wait until you are both sober.
- Do your best to work out conflicts at a time OTHER than right before bed. I get it that when you have kids, especially young kids, you probably aren’t going to get to talk about serious things until they are in bed which might mean an hour or two before your own bedtime. Do your best to wrap it all up with some time to spare so you can both get to sleep.
- If you are not making noticeable progress toward resolution after an hour, put it aside until the next day. After an hour of unproductive talk, everyone is tired, probably crabby and not likely to suddenly have an epiphany about the other side of the argument. Agree to reconvene tomorrow, or at the soonest time the schedule will allow (not longer than 2-3 days).
- No name calling. On the face of it, this may sound obvious. However, name calling sometimes looks like “You are being a control freak!” as opposed to “Jerk”. When things get heated, people often pull out all the stops to gain the upper hand. This only fuels the fire and causes hurt feelings.
- Do your best to address one issue at a time. It’s common for people to get on a roll and bring up “everything but the kitchen sink”. This only causes overwhelm and can lead to statements such as “It sounds like you don’t think I do ANYTHING right.” “Kitchen-sinking” is defeating.
- No swearing or threatening. Self explanatory.
- Try to remember that “always” and “never” are rarely actually true. It’s easy to fall into this trap but it’s likely untrue. When someone feels like he or she isn’t getting credit for what is being done well or what bad behavior is being avoided, the motivation to keep trying goes way down.
- No hit and runs. Hopefully you are making judicious use of grown-up time outs when one of you is flooded emotionally. Whether you are using time outs or trying to shut down the conflict, it’s not fair to say something provocative and then call the time out or say it’s time to agree to disagree. If you’ve just lobbed a bomb, you have to take the fall out first and then set it aside.
- Take responsibility for the parts that YOU are contributing to the problem. It takes two to tango and it’s more than likely that in any given argument you both added to it. Resolution happens faster when each of you can recognize your parts and owning what you need to do differently.
- APOLOGIZE where appropriate. Chances are, if you are in an argument instead of a constructive discussion, apologies are probably called for and will go a long way toward de-escalation and bringing you back closer together. Love DOES mean having to say you’re sorry.