Hubby and I had a fight last week. A not so pretty one. After 6 years of marriage, with the last year being the best so far, you’d think any fighting would be way behind us. You’d be wrong. Why? Because we are human. No marriage is completely free from disagreements and fighting. Now you may be thinking: well, my parents never fought! And you could be correct. Or maybe they hid it from you. For a couple to truly never fight, both persons may be on the far end of passive. Or, at least one may be quite passive and willing to go with the flow no matter their thoughts/opinion/true wishes. (Here’s the spectrum: passive – assertive – aggressive. Assertive being the ideal).
What I’ve learned in 6+ years of marriage and in my career as a social worker is this: fighting vs. never fighting is not necessarily a good indicator of a healthy relationship. It’s the quality of the fights that matter the most. It’s the way that we fight, not whether or not we fight at all. The following are some tips on learning how to fight fair; to conduct your arguments in such a way that your time and energy will be productive no matter the ultimate outcome.
1. When something upsets you, try to take a deep breath and evaluate if you must say something now or if it would be better to wait and bring it up later. The current setting (needing to run out the door, company is over, etc) may set the conversation up for failure. Often, saving the conversation for a different time will prove most fruitful. Just make sure that you DO come back to it and don’t end up stuffing it away as future ammunition for a fight.
2. One thing at a time. Really. This alone will make a world of difference. When you are fighting, stick to the topic at hand. Don’t bring up things from the past that don’t apply. Bringing up old items just to win an argument will actually do the opposite – you are much less likely to be taken seriously and also more likely to feel worse the next day.
3. Never say “always”. Just don’t. You will surely lose credibility as soon as you say “you always forget to take out the trash” and then they come back with, “always eh? well what about last week!”. Done. You lose. Stay away from using the word “always”, always.
4. While we are on the topic of things not to say (such as always), it’s very helpful to use “I” statements instead of “you”. An example of an I statement is: “when you _____, I feel _____. I need you to ______”. Taking it a step farther, a “you” statement could look like: “you never tell me that I look nice”. Changing this to an “I” statement could be: “when you don’t say anything when I’m dressed up, I feel hurt. If you think I look nice, I need you to say it to me”. This example not only helps the argument to go a heck of a lot smoother by using “I” statements, but it also clearly states what the person needs from the other. We must stop expecting others to “just know”.
5. Remembering that we don’t always “fight fair”, make sure to eat some humble pie time and again. Own up for your share of causing the fight to get out of hand. Apologize with the pure intention of learning from your mistake and changing how you operate to fight fair in the future.
Learning how to fight fair is a process. But it’s fundamental to a successful marriage. Just like a person in a boxing ring, fighting fair is the key to success and a good reputation. What matters is not “fighting vs. never fighting”. Conducting a clean fight is what makes all the difference!