How to Fight Fair
Rules for fighting in your relationship.
Fighting or arguing in marriage and relationships is bound to happen. It is unavoidable. Keep your relationship healthy though through fighting fair. Being aware. Practicing the following rules will allow you to have guidelines for these unavoidable arguments, discussions, fights, and fits of anger.
1. Identify WHY You are Upset/Angry/Mad/Anxious
Did it make you mad that the socks were left on the floor again? Or are you mad because you feel you are doing more of the housework than your partner?
Are you upset that your partner went out for the evening with the boys/girls? Or are you feeling lonely or envious that you are the one home taking care of the kids?
This is where you need to separate the overlying & underlying feelings or the primary & secondary emotions to understand yourself better and why you are truly upset at this moment.
Ask yourself what you are fearful of losing. This could be a person, idea, or tangible item. The fear might be losing money, time, a relationship, friend, spouse, connection, job, control, child, or respect.
Skill: Ask yourself, “What am I so afraid of losing right now?”. This could be loss of time, respect, or an ideal you have regarding this issue. Example: Your partner is late again. The “fear” is loss you’re your time and efforts, respect of others, or even respect. This leads to your feelings of frustration, irritation, or humiliation.
2. Stay on Topic
Discuss one issue at a time. Don’t pull out the list you have stored in the special compartment in your head. The compartment where you keep your ammunition, just waiting to recall when you feel the opportunity arises. This is deadly when it comes to arguing.
Skill: Write down or visualize the onetopic or issue and the feelings associated with this topic. When you stick to one topic with your feelings attached, you are allowing yourself to understand your own feelings.
3. No Name Calling
Calling your partner names doesn’t give you any brownie points. This includes put downs and degrading language. Discounting your partner verbally quickly shoves them into the defensive mode and now the argument morphs into the “tit for tat” arena.
Skill: Come on, we know when we are attacking someone verbally. Bite your tongue, duct tape your mouth, or just stop doing it. Acting like a child proves one thing, you are a child.
4. No Interrupting
Hopefully, we all learned at a very early age not to interrupt others when they are talking. In relationships we tend to forget this concept. Shut your mouth and allow the other person to talk. You will get your time on the stage, trust me. Don’t try to talk over one another, fear you won’t get a word in edgewise or be right every single time only makes you appear to be a “know it all”, controlling, or a jerk. Arguing like you are siblings, pretending you are still on the debate team in high-school, or playing the parent is not attractive. I see way too many couples who immediately turn into siblings when they fight. They want to be right, correct the details, or basically win the debate. Winning an argument with a partner doesn’t happen. It does not magically create intimacy or your partners eagerness to go jump in bed with you.
Skill: If the two of you can’t seem allow the other to talk and you tend to interrupt each other, set a timer. Yep, set a timer the old school way. Take turns.
5. No Yelling
You don’t come across any better when you yell. Your wonderful grandiose ideas, opinions, or advice does not need to be communicated with intensity with the volume of your voice. You have relapsed you’re your childhood or adolescent years and probably look either like a fool or your partner becomes afraid of you. Bullying is bullying, period.
Skill: If you would not use the same tone with your neighbor, pastor, boss, or co-worker, don’t use it with your partner. Visualize how ridiculous you must look and how you are losing complete control of the situation.
6. No Stonewalling
We are taught to stonewall “shut down” at an early age. Stonewalling can be recognized as pouting, alienating, or isolating. Many people convince themselves this is a coping skill. Excuses are made in why they can’t or won’t be forthright with their feelings, actions, or behaviors. Generally, the excuses include not “wanting to upset” the other, avoiding a “blow-up. Stonewalling is a form of control. A desire to control the situation, others, or feelings. It is a deadly in relationships.
People where stonewalling is the norm, feel it is a way to self-soothe when they are overwhelmed by the negative emotions. This behavior makes things worse and it does not serve as a coping skill or solve the problem. Feelings are stored or bottled up where resentment, depression, and anger breeds.
Skill: Making excuses for not sharing feelings (“He/she will blow up”) will breed an explosion later or manifest self-pity, depression, hopelessness, hatred, or self-destructive behaviors. Share your feelings and stop justifying why you can’t or won’t. Stonewalling many times creates one to play the victim in relationships.
7. Take a Timeout if Necessary
If your emotions are escalating and headed towards repeated past behaviors, take a time out.
When implemented the correct way, time-outs can assist in changing a negative outcome of an argument. When the strategy of a time-out isn’t agreed upon and discussed prior to an argument, the argument escalates quickly, and negative patterns are repeated.
What I normally observe are individuals taking a time-out, but it is on their terms and used as a form of punishment or attention seeking. Storming out of a room, leaving in a huff, slamming doors or shouting, “I’m done!” while preforming their dramatic exit. The partner who is left feels anxious, helpless, abandoned, desperate, pissed, or ready to jump into the boxing arena.
If a break from the argument does occur, the leaving partner typically doesn’t want to talk about it again after the time-out, for fear of sparking another argument. During the break, there may be little effort, on either person’s side, to become more aware of underlying emotions and needs, to take ownership of personal fault, to think about the other person’s perspective, or to decide on ways to approach the issue differently.
Instead, both parties typically either distract themselves, or try to “get over” the feelings and move on without thinking much more about it, or they get stuck in a mental hamster cage, rehearsing the hurt over and over in their mind, feeling agitated, self-righteous, indignant, fearful, or powerless.
If such a couple were to resume the discussion, they would soon be right back where they were before the time-out, because nothing in their outlook or vision really changed during the break. They return to familiar unhealthy behaviors. This might be either a freeze or shutdown mode or pick right back up where they left off…repeating behaviors that lead to the same damaging results.
A time-out is an interim measure also. It is temporary and doesn’t solve anything by itself. It just keeps individuals from getting to a point of saying or doing something they later regret and an opportunity for each person in the relationship to think about personal responsibility. Own your junk. What should I do next? What was really happening? How was I coming across to my partner? What was I doing or saying that made it difficult for my partner to accept my message? How was I part of the problem? What do I need to change?
1. Come to a mutual understanding prior to an argument that time-outs are okay.
2. Communicate you need a time-out (“I agree that we need to discuss this, but I need a time-out, I am too angry to talk about this now and need a few”). This gives your partner something to hold on to and make your time-out short. State you will circle back in 15 minutes. Do what you say you are going to do.
3. Agree upon a reasonable length of time that will be conducive for one to gather their thoughts and de-escalate the intensity of their feelings.
4. Once you leave, use the time away to calm down. Focus on relaxing as you take some deep breaths. Get rid of the angry, self-righteous thoughts. Do something that works for you in a healthy manner. Take a walk or hot bath, listen to music, journal, sit in silence. Whatever it takes to be self-accountable. What can you learn about yourself – your reactions, fears, responses, as well as the more vulnerable feelings hiding under the feelings leading you to destruction? Trust me, showing a soft vulnerable side is much more appealing than the hard ass brick wall you are carefully constructing.
5. Return and repair. Own your junk. Express your feelings without the “You” statements. Life is not centered around you. Your spouse has feelings just like you do…they may just not be the same.
8. Take Ownership of Your Words
Own your junk. Period. When you have a feeling, express it. When you make a mistake, admit it. When you don’t agree with something, share it. When you need to set a boundary, do it. The key here is your delivery as well as the pre-agreed upon guidelines.
9. Do not Try to Agree or Think You Need To
Guess what? You don’t always need to agree. You don’t need to convince your spouse your way is the best way, or your opinion is the right opinion. Healthy communication is being able to share your feelings and ideas without judgement. When your spouse feels as though they are heard, this opens the door to intimacy for both of you. Agree to disagree…You can learn something about your spouse when you don’t feel you need to justify or prove your opinion.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.