Conflict Resolution

How To Fight Fair

Why do you think a man will agree to play sports with the possibility of getting hurt? Why do people march willingly into battle, even in the face of the enemy?

These are examples of conflicts that contain something that protects us and gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty.

Rules.

In sports, there are understood rules. There is a referee to keep players protected. If someone gets a little too heated and loses his head, the referee will call a foul, or a technical. In war, there are rules of engagement that give structure to an otherwise hostile event.

So it is with couples who fight. If they become out of control and unpredictable, their fighting is unproductive, even destructive. However, if couples established agree-upon rules, the conflict can be resolved much easier because both parties feel safe.

These are some rules that couples can sit down and adopt before the conflict arises. If followed, they change “fighting” to a constructive discussion that leads to mutual understanding.

  1. No yelling. Fighting can be passionate and if it gets too loud, it just turns into a screaming match. When one person yells, it’s like a barking dog. The other dogs have to join in, and they just get louder and louder. One person trying to out-do the decibel level to be heard over the other. Then they both end up yelling on top of the other person so that no one can hear the other.
  2. No name calling. Along with yelling, using derogatory statements or mud slinging is against the rules. I call “foul” because you have made this a personal attack and lost reason. We don’t attack the person, but the issue.
  3. Stick to the issue. When hot heads take off running, the contentious couple often start bringing up other grievances. It’s not fair to air a laundry list. Tackle one issue at a time.
  4. Similarly, don’t bring up old arguments. It’s like going back to the landfill, digging up old garbage, and flinging at your partner. The past is over, and the present is what you need to focus on.
  5. Take turns talking. This is probably the one that couples struggle with the most (along with the next related point). If you want to be respected for your opinion, you have to offer the same to the other person. You can’t ask for what you aren’t willing to give.
  6. Listen. When it’s your turn to listen, use all your energy to be in the moment. Don’t let your thoughts distract you. Don’t be formulating your rebuttal while your partner is talking. Even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, they deserve to be heard, just like you. Their point of view is their reality, even if it’s different that yours.
  7. Pick a good time to talk. Discuss your disagreement when you both agree it’s a good time to talk. You both need to be rested, relaxed, and ready. That means you might need to say, or email, “Honey, there’s a problem about overcharged on our credit card we need to go over. When would be a good time for you?” The wrong way to go about this is to corner your partner, like when they walk through the door after work (“We need to talk right now about your mom coming to visit!”). This is a sure-fire way to put your spouse on defense and the sparks to fly. I’ve never been a fan of the saying, “Never let the sun go down on your anger.” If I were to try to hash out a problem with my husband when it’s 11:00 p.m. and we’re both worn out, I can promise you that the problem would just grow and we would make it worse. Go to sleep! Get refreshed and pick a better time when you’re on the top of your game.

If you create a list of rules of engagement, both parties will be more likely to feel fairness, a shared amount of power, and safety when disagreeing. It may be easy to agree to the list when you’re both calm, but when emotions start to rule over reason, one of both may resort to hostility again. In that case, it’s very important that you also discuss what will happen in the heat of the moment. One of your can form a “T” with your hands, to indicate a “foul” or “technical” to remind the offending party that they broke a rule. Or just reaching over and gently touching the other person’s hand and saying, “Honey, remember we agreed not to call names” is a kind reminder.