How to Fight Fair
There is nothing more inevitable in relationships than the fact that you will have some arguments. I didn't always believe this because I never saw my parents argue, but I've now been assured that they did...in private. In my limited experience as a married person, I've learned that it's not the fact that you fight, but how you fight that determines how things go.
Now, before I delve into the things I've learned, let me say that I am still learning the ins and outs of successful arguments. I'm that strange bird that engages in conflict (and do a great job of it) for a living but am a complete nightmare in my private life dealing with rifts and imbalance. So, here are a few things I've learned that seem to work and that I hope to master...someday.
1) Don't fight in public. I once saw a man yell at his wife across the Duty Free area in the Cancun, Mexico airport. He shouted, "Gaht damnit, Trish LET'S GO" as she shuffled slowly through rows and rows of perfume. What's worse is that she was easily 50 yards away from him and his roar silenced the crowd. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as she visibly deflated and then sauntered fearfully and reluctantly towards her husband with tears welling up in her eyes. Sadly, this is not the first time I've witnessed couples arguing publicly and it's always just as ugly. Even if it's both parties going at it, there's nothing more unnecessary than dealing with private business publicly.
2) Don't shy away from the argument. I'm a classic avoider when it comes to fights. I'm great at walking on eggshells to avoid having a disagreement which I've learned is completely unhealthy. Successful couples will pull up the rug and deal with everything underneath instead of allowing things to sit and fester and become bigger issues later. You can't be afraid to ask the big scary questions if you want to progress. What better time to address things as big as "Do you want kids?" and "what is our investment strategy?" than now?
3) Be forward-looking. There is nothing worse than arguing with your partner and then one or both of you start bringing up things from years ago. What this does is create the "pile-on" effect which makes the person being piled upon retreat and feel like there is just too much to reasonably deal with at one time. Put another way, it's the catalyst to the other person asking the classic question, "why are you bringing up old shit?" Inevitably, you will then begin focusing on rehashing old issues instead of dealing with the issue at hand. If you didn't raise your complaint about the unexplained dent in your car door in 2014, then you waived the argument. Plus, it's just not fair to bring it up in a present-day fight about something unrelated like spending habits. Even if you try to logically connect the two when making a point about your partner's carelessness, in actuality, it doesn't fit and it's not fair to bring it up for the sake of bolstering.
4) Honor the cool down period. This one is for me. I'm the "let's deal with it NOW" person while my husband wants some time to get perspective on things before we discuss. What happens is that I will push, push, push, and then it leads to an argument about how I push instead of what we were supposed to be dealing with in the first place. Plus, if you needle your partner while they are trying to cool off, you might get a "poke-the-bear" response that will end with you having hurt feelings.
5) Don't go below the belt. Some of the best advice we received during our engagement was "act like adults". Seems simple enough, but some people tend to retreat to the schoolyard during arguments. There is just no place for temper tantrums and name-calling. It's childish and non-productive.
6) Focus on your feelings. Let me explain this one. By discussing your concerns in terms of your own feelings, you spare your partners'. It's never helpful to point the finger during arguments. Instead of saying, "you are careless and reckless," try "when you do X, it makes me feel unstable." It's a subtle way of focusing on your own feelings rather than highlighting your partner's failures.
There are many more tips that can help couples through hairy situations. Ultimately, if both people commit to fighting fair, then finding a path through difficult issues will not be as painful.
What other tools do you use?
Extra Credit: I Don't Like My Husband
Photo: Andrew Branch Photography