Fighting is typically not high on the “to do” list when people get married. But it is one of the first regular events to take place in the new home. It’s not surprising considering the huge shift in the way life is organized when two distinct individuals begin to build a new life together.
Like it or not, conflict is a normal part of married life. Understanding that fact, and taking deliberate steps to engage conflict from the standpoint of committed love, is one of the most important things married couples can learn to do.
Learning how to “fight fair” can make all the difference. In fact, such an approach will go a long way toward making conflict a manageable and beneficial component of a great marriage. There’s a lot you can do. Here are 10 tips to get the ball rolling:
Nice guys do really finish first: Kindness may well be the strongest card you can play in a disagreement. Conflict can be defined by hostility and contempt, or it can be defined by kindness and respect. The choice is yours.
Use “I” statements: This means taking ownership of your feelings rather than blaming your spouse. “I need some help because I keep getting confused about the kids’ schedule” works better than, “You’re always late, I’m sick and tired of it.”
Make an appointment: Try a loving handwritten note: “Let’s talk about last night…” “I need to apologize…” “I’d like us to have a calendar planning session…” “There’s something I need your help with…” “I believe I’m confused about the schedule…” “I’ve screwed up and we need to fix this….”
Don’t argue historically: Always keep point of view in the moment. Laying out an annotated history of your spouse’s shortcomings simply fuels the fire.
Resist the urge to keep score! Score keeping assumes a winner and a loser. The point of fair fighting is to promote the relationship. There are no losers when the relationship is strengthened.
Take the high road: Tit-for-tat is a shortcut to escalation. The high road is the first step toward reconciliation. Taking the high road recognizes that conflict represents an opportunity rather than an indictment. The high road says, “This disagreement helps me understand where I need to grow.”
Never evaluate feelings: It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure it’s helpful to accuse me of __________…” But it’s always wrong to say, “It’s stupid of you to be upset!” She is upset – you need to acknowledge that. “I understand your feelings are hurt.” The pain… hurt… anger… disappointment… anguish… these are all real.
Understand that the only person you can change is yourself: It’s difficult to be angry with someone who is humble (that should be you). It’s easy for anger to escalate when you only see shortcomings in your spouse (don’t be that guy!).
Never use the children as leverage: ‘nough said.
When you’re not angry, work out mutually acceptable “Rules of Engagment.” Rules are helpful on so many levels.
- Rules recognize fighting as a natural part of the relationship
- Rules formalize the premise that you’re not interested in playing the blame game.
- Rules outline safe parameters for working out issues. For example, “We agree to no name-calling; we agree not to bring up the past; we agree to use moderate voice volume; we agree to listen when the other is talking; we agree to use “I” statements; we agree to both be part of the solution; we agree to see counselor _______ if we’re at an impasse, etc. etc.
- Rules provide programmed objectivity in a time and place where civility needs an advocate.
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