At some point, we all get into arguments with our significant other (therapists included), and when this happens, we have choices to make. We can try to fight fairly, or we can escalate and create a larger conflict.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. In the moment, you don’t intend to fight unfairly or ineffectively. When we aren’t fighting fair, this is a result of emotional flooding. We become overwhelmed by the situation and end up doing/saying things that we don’t really mean. Although it feels that this is out of our control, there are ways to fight fair. We just have to be doing and avoiding certain things. Read below for 4 big tips to start fighting fairly.
1.Don’t Threaten The Relationship
It is extremely easy to escalate in conflict with the person you love most, but that does not give either of you permission to make any threats towards the relationship. What threatens a relationship? Ending the relationship when you don’t really mean to, using the word “divorce”, physically threatening harm to the other person, or emotionally injuring your partner. When you’re in a conflict or disagreement with your partner, keep your focus on what this is actually about. For example, if the conflict started about a disagreement in parenting techniques, don’t let the conflict escalate to the point of threatening one another.
Instead, keep your focus on what you want to accomplish around the disagreement/argument. Do you just want to vent? Do you need to come to a compromise? Do you have a solution to propose? Identifying what you want to accomplish helps both you and your partner work towards possible solutions opposed to becoming emotionally flooded and escalating the conflict.
2.Don’t Bring Up Old History
This one is hard, but accomplishable! As previously mentioned, it is easy for arguments to escalate and turn into something that is far beyond what started the initial argument/disagreement. One thing that will do this is bringing up old history. Now, I know what you’re thinking. There can be repetitive behaviors and things from the past that have yet to be resolved or even addressed. Although this may be true, it sounds like this would warrant different discussions. Having a disagreement about something in your day-to-day life is not the time or space to work towards closure for events that happened in the past.
Keep your focus on what you are actually trying to address initially. And, if something from the past needs to be addressed, do so in the appropriate time or place (i.e. in a counseling session, during a time with forewarning, etc).
3.Focus On Yourself
Nothing will escalate a conflict more than saying “you did..” or “you didn’t do.. [something]”. Think about it. No one likes to be told what they did or didn’t do. When we hear statements like these, our natural defense mechanisms come up because we want to protect ourselves from the perceived attack. So, during times of conflict, focus on your part. How is it making you feel? What is your perspective? What would you like to accomplish in this? What do you think your partner needs to know about your thoughts or feelings? Answering these questions will ultimately help your partner to have a better understanding of where you’re coming from.
Avoid “you” statements to work towards actual conversation to resolve conflict opposed to getting stuck in an attack/defensiveness cycle.
4.Remember That You’re A Team
To fight fairly, there is not a “winner” or “loser”. It’s simply, what do we want from having this disagreement or conversation? During times of conflict, it can be difficult to stop ourselves from wanting to be “right” or having our solution be used. To work through this, remind yourself that you and your partner are a team. And, in order to be a team, both you and your partner have to share your thoughts and feelings and receive acceptance from the other. Although you cannot control whether your partner accepts what you have to say, you can start this process by empathetically accepting their opinions. If you’re struggling to know what they are tying to communicate, ask questions. Be sure that you fully understand your partner before you dive into your thoughts.
Fighting fair is essential to any relationship, but especially in romantic relationships. Start fighting fairly with your partner by avoiding threats to the relationship, avoiding the past and sticking to the issue at hand, focusing on yourself, and remembering that you and your partner are a team.
About the Author
Amanda Cummins is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family