How to Fight Fair in Relationships
Fighting in a relationship is inevitable. If you are married or in a relationship then you’ve probably argued and if you’re dating and you haven’t had a fight yet, then its time to pick one and practice your skills. So here’s your guide on how to fight fair in relationships.
1. Strike when the iron is cold
Hopefully you know the saying “strike when the iron is hot” but when it comes to hammering out an issue it’s best to strike when it’s cold. What does this mean?
This means that you shouldn’t bring up a sensitive issue when you or both of you are already upset about something.
Wait until things are fairly level and then approach your partner and let them know you have something you want to talk about.
If you do just one thing, this will get you some decent mileage. Think about it, how well will an argument go when you are both already ticked off at one another and making snarky comments?
Cool off then have your conversation! This is just setting yourself up well for a fair fight.
2. Don’t exaggerate
My mom and dad always (see what I did there) reminded me of this rule when I was young because apparently I tended to use words that were pretty definitive.
So when you approach a partner try to not use the words “always” or “never”. Because its rare that someone “always” or “never” does something, there tend to be exceptions and this type of language is generally inflammatory.
Instead say “sometimes” or “the times you do…”. See what I mean?
3. Avoid jerky behaviors
I was thinking that maybe this could go without saying but I think not. These types of behaviors are jerky and ultimately undermine making any real progress in hashing out an issue.
Don’t call names. Just don’t.
Don’t raise your voice. What’s the need for that, they’re probably sitting right there?!
Don’t point (or use other annoying nonverbals). I did this once, I swear it was a reflex, but yeah this didn’t go over well.
Don’t give the silent treatment. I understand if you need a second to cool off but let your partner know that’s what you need and then come back to it after you’ve had a moment. But don’t just give the silent treatment, what are you 3 (there I go calling names)?!
Don’t do tit for tat. So this one is my pet peeve. It’s when you bring an issue up and then your partner says, “well YOOOOU did this or YOOOOU did that and I FEEEEL this.” Listen everyone will get a turn (do we need a talking stick?) but when your partner is talking and brought something important up then it’s his or her turn. And then your place to let them know you heard it. It’s NOT your place to drudge up something so that you can even the score.
4. Use “I” Statements
Everyone says this one so I won’t spend much time here, but own your feelings and reactions to things.
“I feel __________________, when you ____________.”
And here is a common misuse of this: “I feel YOU…” Make sure that the feelings are related to how you feel and that you are not making a “you” attack under the guise of “I feel.”
5. Have a theme
If you’ve ever had an argument, then you probably can relate to the dark hole that they can lead you down. When you get to the bottom you usually can’t even remember why you were arguing in the first place.
One common reason this happens is that you bring up an issue and then your partner wants examples. So, you give an example and then your partner defends against the example, claiming it was an exception. So, you bring up another and another and the same thing keeps happening.
Accusation and then defense. So then, before you know it, things turn ugly. Depending on how each of you argue, it gets exhausting to keep recalling examples and you feel unheard because their response is always a defense rather than an acknowledgment. Welcome to the black hole.
You may have to give an example, but do your best to label the general trend or theme of whatever is bothering you and stick to the 30,000 foot view rather than getting into all the dirty details.
If you’re asked to “prove it” then give one example and say, “I don’t want to hash out every time this has happened but I wanted you to know that I feel___________ when you _________.”
Avoiding the black hole requires a little skillful maneuvering but you can do it!
6. When you’re on the receiving end, receive it!
This is harder than it sounds. When a partner brings up a complaint it can be a real knock to the ego especially if it’s something that has another side to it (they usually do) where you feel justified or even misunderstood. However, when your partner comes to you with an issue, do your best to just listen. And not listen while you’re coming up with your carefully crafted defense, but just listen to what they have to say. Practice putting yourself in their world and feeling what they feel. It’s called empathy! Then when your partner is done talking, tell them you want to explain it back to see if you’re understanding correctly. Then paraphrase what they said and ask for feedback. After they feel understood, then you can decide how to respond. But work to really hear what they are telling you.
7. Learn to apologize
This is really simple, but generally people are no good at apologizing. The thing is that it’s good to apologize when you’re wrong but also sometimes you need to apologize for how you came across.
Here are four simple steps you can follow when you apologize. This is a great way to wrap up an argument and then move on with the relationship.
STEP 1: Acknowledge what your partner is saying you did or said that bothered him or her (see above).
STEP 2: Apologize for what you did or said or for how you came across. “I am sorry for_____________________” Or, “I am sorry for coming across as __________________________.”
STEP 3: Briefly explain your motives and your perspective. Sometimes you can stop after step 2, but if you feel really compelled to explain, then make it brief!! Watch out for using “but” after you apologize—it can really minimize the apology. So explain if you must, but make sure your focus is on the apology first, and then on clarifying your motive.
STEP 4: If you explained your motive apologize again! Especially after you said “but”. For example, “I am sorry for when I said ________________. What I really meant was ____________________, but I am so sorry for that I came across in an unappreciative way and hurt your feelings.”
8. Accept the apology for goodness sake
This is like a sub-point to step 7, but if you’re on the receiving end of an apology, please accept it like a grown up.
Some people feel so entitled to their apology and then they hear it and basically say, “yeah that WAAAS horrible of you.”
It is incredibly hard to humble yourself and to give a good apology, so if you get one RECEIVE it, BELIEVE it and then ACCEPT it.
For clarity’s sake accept it by saying “I accept your apology” or “Thank you for your apology, I forgive you” or whatever it is that you feel like saying but acknowledge the apology.
About the Author: Dr. Morgan Cutlip
I am a wife, a mom, a PhD in Psychology and an advocate and life-long lover of all things relationships. My work centers around creative content development for My Love Thinks as well as research on the Love Thinks programs. I have a particular passion for helping my generation of Millennials find love, happiness, and longevity in their relationships. Oh yeah I have conducted several studies on the Love Thinks programs as well as research on the high divorce rate of female soldiers. If you are into reading that stuff, you can find it at www.lovethinks.com. PS I am available for questions so hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.