Well, depending on how you define the word “fight” you may be right. I’m not talking about a knock-down, drag-out physical fight. Instead, I want to talk about how to handle disagreements with your partner. There are ways to argue (or fight) fairly. This is important when it comes to healthy relationships. Disagreements are inevitable when more than one person is involved in a situation. The trick is learning how to handle conflict in a healthy way. Hint: It’s not avoiding the conflict so that you can say you never argue either! Instead of feeling embarrassed that you argue with your spouse, think more about how you argue. It makes all of the difference. In this post, we’re going to cover the rules for fighting fair.
Rule #1 – Discuss the Issue When You Are Calm
It is really important to be aware of how upset you are during a conflict. Start by making sure your spouse if available. Try asking, “I’d like to speak with you about _____. Is now a good time or should we pick a time to speak about it later?” Finding a time that works for both of you, helps keep an argument calm from the start. Once you feel your heart racing and notice raised voices, this is the time to take a step back. Get some space, cool down, and re-enter the conversation when you are both calm. Plan a time with your partner to re-address the discussion (within 24 hours) so that you are both on the same page. Give your partner a “heads up” before walking away from the conversation. This will help keep tension down and lead to better results.
Here are some signs the argument isn’t fair:
- Shallow or rapid breathing
- Insulting & name calling
- Throwing objects
- Physical aggression
It is also hard to successfully resolve a disagreement when one of you is ready to talk but the other one is not.
- They are in the middle of a task such as washing dishes or delivering a baby
- Your partner is tired or it is late at night
- Rolling eyes
- Slamming doors
When we are emotionally charged, we say and do things we regret which will only fan the flame and make things worse. In a heated moment we can become angry and say something we regret. This type of behavior chips away at a relationship. Deciding to be calm instead of sarcastic so often makes a relationship work.
When you notice these signs creep into your arguments that is your signal to ask for a “Time Out” and schedule a time to address the issue when you are both calm. It could be 10 minutes later or 10 hours later, only you know how much time you need. The main key is to make sure you are both calm when you have the discussion.
Rule #2 – Focus On the Problem
Notice the difference there? One of those statements bypassed any criticism or accusations, while the other was charged with emotion. When you are able to focus on the problem, it helps keep the conversation manageable. It also prevents your spouse from feeling as if they need to defend their parents in addition to making plans for the weekend.
Rule #3 – Discuss the Problem, Not the Person
I cannot stress enough how important this is. Frequently, in moments of anger we resort to subtly insulting our loved ones rather than expressing our emotions about the problem. It takes great diligence to master our anger and learn to express love and gratitude even when it is hard. In truth, anger destroys many marriages. Researchers say that couples need to balance each negative interaction with 5 positive or loving interactions to keep their relationship stable. But even when you have to talk about difficult things, you can avoid negativity and anger by using statements that reflect how you feel, and discuss the problem and not the person.
Without that 5:1 ratio, a relationship could be in jeopardy. We can’t expect our spouse to read our mind and know our emotions (even if you’ve been together for many years). We have to communicate what’s on our mind. When we discuss the problem instead of the person, it’s like opening a window into our hearts.
Rule #4 – Listen With an Open Mind
Couples frequently hear the words of their partner through a filter which prevents them from hearing the actual message their spouse is trying to communicate. During an argument this occurs even more so. Our filters get clogged and we don’t actually listen to our partners at all. Instead we prepare for what we are going to say in response. Taking an extra 15 seconds to slow down and restate what your partner says prevents misinterpretation and manages conflict.
It’s amazing how this little trick can bring the volume of an argument way down. I’ve seen it work time and time again.
Rule #5 – Treat the Other Person With Respect
As difficult as this is in contention, Christian families are called to show mercy and forgiveness. We are called to follow Jesus and lay down one’s life (read John 10). Listening with an open mind and treating your spouse with respect is one way of doing this.
Pope Francis, in his homily on the Feast of the Holy Family said, “Let us not lose confidence in the family! It is beautiful when we can always open our hearts to one another, and hide nothing. Where there is love, there is also understanding and forgiveness. To all of you, dear families, I entrust this most important mission – the domestic pilgrimage of daily family life – which the world and the Church need, now more than ever.”
In the end, the point is not to avoid fighting. All couples argue (even the happily married ones). If you can fight using these 5 rules, however, you can fight fair. You will avoid huge arguments that never resolve themselves and you will be on the “domestic pilgrimage” Pope Francis speaks of. Before you know it, your disagreements will end without someone sleeping on the couch. These rules are key to managing conflict and keeping your marriage in one piece. Give at least one a try. What do you have to loose?
Are you tired of fighting and feel your arguments are out of control? If you are worried about divorce you may benefit from couples counseling. Please visit www.reginaboyd.com for more information.