Being humans, having conflicts is inevitable whether it be in a new or a long-term relationship. People will always disagree about their ideas, perceptions, desires, and values. One antidote to stop conflicts from wreaking havoc in your loving relationship is the concept of fighting fair with your partner.
At times these disagreements can be over trivial stuffs while at other times, they could be major disagreements. But regardless of which type they are, conflicts generally stir up strong feelings especially anger.
During periods of disagreements, it is easy for you to feel angry and hurt. The fact is that there’s nothing wrong with getting angry, the problem is with how the anger is handled.
First things first, let’s be clear about “fight” or “fighting fair” in this post. These terms are strictly referring to the act of an individual expressing their disagreement or anger to another individual in a constructive manner. At no time should physical altercations, abusive outbursts or emotional diatribes be considered as “fighting fair.”
You fight unfairly with your partner when you use negative means to get your point across without actually helping the conflict.
Put another way, unfair fighting is when you make any move during a disagreement which does not help either you or your partner to understand or be understood.
In general, unfair fighting does not help the situation at hand. This is because it does not allow you or your partner to fully understand each other’s perspective.
The biggest cause of most arguments is the fact that we are mostly focused on wanting our partner to understand our point first while not truly wanting to understand their own point of view.
Can We Actually Stop Fighting?
How can we stop the fighting? This question according to Laurie Puhn, Ph.D., author of Fight Less, Love More, is the wrong question to be asking. And the reasoning between her suggestion is not that farfetched.
“The right question is: How can we turn our bad fights into good fights?”, say Dr. Puhn. In addition, she says that “Disagreements are going to happen no matter how great your relationship is, but there are right and wrong ways to handle them.”
So, there you have it! Fighting between couples in a relationship is inevitable. Instead the focus should be on how to handle them when they do occur.
In fact, if you stop fighting, you might be in trouble. At least if you’re arguing, it means that you actually still care about what is happening in the relationship.
In fighting fair with each other, one thing healthy couples do is that they focus on the issue at hand. They keep the conversation locked down on how they feel about that very specific situation.
Having said that, the following are the 20 Laws of Fighting Fair in a Relationship that can lead to a clearer understanding of yours and your partner’s feelings. Hopefully, they’ll help you develop a deeper connection with your partner when the battle is over.
1. State the Issue clearly
Try to be very clear about what the exact issue you have with your partner is. If you can, use one or more examples that help to illustrate what you’re trying to say. For example, “I felt hurt by the way you condescendingly spoke to me during…” Also, avoid using words such as “never” or “always” as they are too generalized in nature.
2. Stick to the Issue at Hand
Avoid jumping from one issue to another. Try as much as possible to stick to the specific conflict you have at hand right now. It’s very tempting to want to bring in other issues to change the direction of the fight to make your position look better, but don’t. So, avoid being a kitchen-sink fighter and learn the art of fighting fairly by staying on the current topic.
Nothing can keep an argument going like two persons who aren’t sure what they’re arguing about.
3. Apologize When You’re Wrong
A lot of people find it pretty difficult admitting that they are wrong about something. Fighting fair with your partner entails resisting the urge to rationalize your refusal to apologize to them. Instead, be humble about it and forget the excuse that what you did is inconsequential compared to what they did in the past.
4. Set Common Ground Rules
Since conflicts are inevitable, it would serve any relationship well to set some “rules of engagement” during such situations. This can include rules forbidding name calling, unnecessary interruptions, banging on tables, or cursing each other. As a practice, after a disagreement, you can both go through the rules to see how both of you fared. When done sincerely, you’ll find out that fighting fair and conflict resolution becomes easier in your relationship.
5. Request a Time Out
This is important because at times tempers can run high and may make either of you to say things you may later regret. When your partner asks for “time out“, it’s a signal for you to give them a break. So stop, step out of the room, and reconnect when you’re both calmer. This allows both of you to “cool off” the built up anger and on return you’ll be more ready to fight fair.
Be flexible in picking a time to return back to the conversation so that you don’t sweep the issue at stake under the rugs. For fighting fair with your partner, it would also be a good idea to include a time out clause in your ground rules. Also, try using a “time out” word that has a way of catching both of your attention.
6. No Hitting Below the Belt
This often happens when one of you is feeling frustrated by being on the losing side. As a result, one partner might want to attack the other’s known weaknesses and sensitivities.
This also includes doing or saying anything with the sole aim of causing hurt to your partner. There’s no need reminding your partner “how fat they’ve become” or saying anything that may bring them to tears. When you’re fighting fair, it’s just not worth it. In fact, this might create a trauma that may outlast the conflict itself.
7. Avoid the Blame Game
Try to hold yourself accountable and acknowledge any wrongdoing – without playing the blame game. Avoid blaming your partner for any of your shortcomings or misfortune. However, if you strongly believe something is actually their fault then talk it over with them in a constructive way. Nobody likes to take the fall for anything, so be really tactical here not to aggravate the tension and conflict.
8. Remain Calm
When the tension starts becoming unbearable, you may find it hard to think clearly. At such times it is advisable to take some deep breaths from your diaphragm to help you calm down. This way, you’ll be able to stay rational and not overreact during such difficult moments. Staying calm and maintaining control of yourself during an argument are crucial for fighting fair.
9. Make Compromises
Most of the conflicts between partners are largely as a result of opposing needs. Thus, effectively fighting fair requires some degree of negotiation and compromise. In general, conflicts are best resolved when both partner’s needs are considered to be both “legitimate” and “important”. As a result, there’s no need to fight over whose needs are bigger, or more justified. An example would be: “How about this time you do it my way, and next time I’ll do it your way?”
10. Avoid Withdrawing
Unlike with a time out, a withdrawal usually involves one partner becoming silent and refusing to respond to the other. Often times it may be a reaction to feeling attacked, bored, disinterested, or angered. So, it might be an attempt to control one’s anger, a way to maintain autonomy and control, or simply a way to punish the other person.
This is often characterized by not acknowledging or addressing the earlier conflict when they do decide to re-engage. Giving your partner the silent treatment isn’t fighting fair rather it escalates the problem making them more frustrated and angry. If you’re feeling attacked, find a way to constructively let your partner know about how you’re feeling.
11. Don’t Bring in Past Issues
Couples often bring up their partner’s past transgressions as a way to attack them when having an argument. However, constantly bringing up old grudges might be a sign of a persisting underlying problem of unforgiveness.
In fact, one of the keys to fighting fair with your partner is to avoid bringing up unnecessary details of the past. While it’s often tempting to do, don’t do it. There’s really no need to bring up the past just to win an argument if it will make your partner feel miserable. If an issue from the past keeps resurfacing, then set aside time to deal with it when you’re not annoyed. Learn to deal with one issue at a time.
12. Avoid Raising Your Voices
Raising your voice and screaming indicate being out of control of your anger and might be frightening to your partner. When you are both yelling, none of you is actually being heard as no one is listening to the other.
Try your best to stay in control while using a respectful and calm voice in fighting fair with your partner. Whenever one or both of you reaches a point of yelling, then someone has to call for a “time out”. It takes time and practice but it’ll greatly help both of you to have a discussion instead of a fight.
13. Listen Attentively to One Another
Being present in the moment and attentively listening to each other’s arguments helps both of you understand one another better. Empathically listening to your partner means opening your heart and shutting off any inner dialogue trying to answer what your partner is saying.
When fighting fair, both of you must respect each other’s opinions and willingly listen to each other with empathy. There’s also the need to avoid interrupting your partner when they’re speaking as it mostly smacks of being controlling.
14. Don’t be Afraid of Conflict
Anger is a natural, hard-wired emotion that is neither right nor wrong in and of itself. In most cases, it is a reaction people have when they sense threats or injustice.
One important thing to know about anger, especially when fighting fear, is that it’s mostly not the whole story. In general, conflicts provide a relationship an opportunity to grow. Therefore, running from it means that you might never discover the full extent of what is actually causing the conflicts. This is part of why fighting fair with your partner can really help to strengthen your relationship.
Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive.
Thus, it is very important to understand what exactly is prompting the anger. You might therefore want to ask your partner about what is making them so angry. From such inquiry, you might discover other underlying feelings such as fear, sadness, or grief.
These feelings might turn out to be closer to the heart of the matter. Therefore, they may need to be taken into consideration to be able to effectively resolve the conflict in the healthiest way.
15. Avoid Emotional Blackmailing
This is a tactic used by one or both partners to “punish” the other partner for bringing up a complaint. While it might be deliberate or not, the general goal is to quickly shut down the conversation. Most times, it’s done by reacting in an overwhelmingly distressed or injured way when a complaint is brought up. If you intend fighting fair with your partner, then give them the freedom and confidence to air their opinion at any given time.
16. Don’t Attack Your Partner
As already stated, physical fighting or violence of any form is a NO-NO. We’re strictly talking about “fighting fair” here. However, there are other forms of attacking a person’s character or doing things that can hurt them.
Thus, always endeavor to avoid any tendency of throwing things around, slamming fist on the table or punching walls. These actions can be construed as terrifying to your spouse as they are an indication of potential violence.
17. Try to Understand Your Partner’s Perspective
Statements like “Sorry, can you tell me more about that? I’d like to understand what got us to this place” are a great way to foster understanding between you and your partner.
So rather than replying your partner’s complaint by being defensive or annoyed, try delaying your reaction by asking questions. Do this even when you don’t like where they’re coming and if it hurts and makes your annoyed.
Most of the times, a show of frustration is more of a plea hoping to be heard.
If you want to always be fighting fair with your partner, then stop trying to make your partner understand your point of view first. Rather, try to be more open to what they are saying and make serious effort to understand their perspective.
Make it habitual to curiously listen to them while not interrupting and always ask for clarification through a “feedback loop.” Never waste a good fight by not learning from it. Instead, try to extract enough new information and insight from a fight to help you grow as a couple.
18. Uncover the Root Causes
One important fact about anger is that it is a secondary emotion. Anger hardly ever exists on its own as it always has another emotion beneath it. Some of the most common emotions behind it are hurt, sadness, frustration, jealousy, and insecurity.
Thus, it’s important to determine if the anger you’re feeling lies primarily within your relationship or it’s coming from outside. A lot of relationship problems are best solved by addressing the root causes and not the symptoms you’re feeling. This makes fighting fair with your partner much easier.
Do you find yourself often getting annoyed about something someone did or did not do? If yes, then you might need to ask yourself if there’s something else going on. Often, our annoyances at other people’s actions boil down to other issues we might be having within or around ourselves. Do yourself a favor by asking yourself, “Why am I annoyed over this?” You might just surprise yourself at how easy it becomes when fighting fair with your partner!
19. Don’t Forget Why You’re Fighting
Understanding what the exact purpose of conflicts in a relationship are is a great way to learning the art of fighting fair with your partner. Conflicts aren’t meant to determine who’s right or wrong about an issue but are mediums for highlighting and bridging differences.
So, the fight between both of you is because one of you is hurt and wants to be heard. One good way to remember this is to realize that you’re not two beings in the relationship. You are actually three: you, your partner, and the relationship. And all three need to be properly taken care of.
Next time, when fighting over something, remember that the health of the relationship is more important than your winning an argument. The simultaneous nurturing and preservation of all three needs to be given priority over all else.
Achieving this might often need you to let go of your “right” perspectives in order not to fuel another conflict. Whenever you’re confronted with a disagreement, learn to habitually ask yourself, “What is best for my relationship?” With practice, you’ll fare much better than otherwise.
20. Pick Your Fights
There are a lot of things that can easily turn personal relationships into war zones. Yet, couples who are confident in picking their battles generally report having happier and fulfilling relationships. They choose fights in which they believe resolutions are possible.
This is important because according to Dr. John Gottman, 69 percent of the things most couples argue about are perpetual – they never go away. So, why continue fighting over every little thing that annoys you?
A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone.
When you plan on fighting fair with your partner, the key to being truly successful is to pick your fights. If you can let the issue go, move on and continue enjoying life with your partner. However, if the issue keeps nagging at you, then bring it up with your partner in a calm manner.
The ability to differentiate between the “small fights” and the “big fights” significantly helps in fighting fair with your partner. Understanding the differences between every fight that presents itself is what enables us to pick our fights wisely.
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