Updated: Mar 11, 2018
It seems as though none of our important relationships are free from conflict. Even when we are full of love and respect for the other person, we will clash at times. Conflicts are a normal part of intimate relationships and should not be alarming.
Conflicts usually arise when we disagree. We can disagree about our perceptions, ideas, expectations, or desires. A perfect, and well-known, example of this type of disagreement is when one person expects to have a tidy house where each person picks up after themselves and his partner has consistent “challenges” in putting things away.
We also get into conflict when we have a strong desire to control our world. In addition, we fight when we have deep fears that are triggered by our partner’s behaviors. For example, if we fear being rejected and we feel our partner is not paying enough attention to us, we may blame our partner for our feeling scared and lash out at them.
Please understand that not every disagreement is important enough to fight about – as my grandma used to say “pick your battles.” Not all of our disagreements need to develop into a full-fledged fight. So, if the topic is important enough to fight about, we have to learn how to fight in a manner that works towards resolving the issue without damaging the relationship.
In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to encourage fighting fairly is to stay on topic. Let’s say, you and your partner are fighting about money, you cannot start going on about dirty socks all over the house – you have to stay focused. If you don’t stay on topic, the chances that you’ll reach a resolution are slim to none. Remember, if we don’t resolve a conflict, we will continue fighting about it until we do find a resolution – even if it takes years to find that resolution.
Another important aspect of fair fighting is for each person to stay calm during the conversation. If someone becomes angry, a time-out needs to occur. Yes, a time-out. A time-out is where each person takes a physical break from the other and the topic is put on temporary hold. When we get angry, our brains shift from the thinking part over to the primitive part, which doesn’t allow us to think logically. And, if we can’t think logically, we are unable to fight fairly. So, if someone is angry, agree to stop talking and cool-off. Once everyone is calm, cool, and collected, you will return to your conversation on the topic in an attempt to find a resolution.
If you are getting irritated about your partner’s behavior and feel it’s important enough to bring up, you’ll have to start a conversation, on a topic that might be sensitive. An excellent way to do this is to use “I” statements. When we use “I” statements, we take responsibility for how we’re feeling in response to a situation or specific behavior. In the case of the dirty socks, you would want to start the conversation with something like this: “I feel disrespected/irritated/annoyed when you leave your dirty socks all over the house.” Starting a conversation like this identifies the problem from your perspective and how you feel about it. “I” statements reduce the chance that your partner will become overly defensive and allows the two of you to work out a compromise. You’ll also want to avoid using absolutes – words like “all,” “never” and “always.”
The final thing to remember about fair fighting is that “timing is everything.” You’ll want to pick the time of your conversation at a time when your partner is most likely to be open to your perspective. For example, if your partner is not a morning person, don’t try to have a conversation about dirty socks first thing in the morning. It’s likely to end up with more anger and hurt feelings – not a resolution to the problem, which is what you’re looking for in starting this conversation in the first place.
Good luck and fair fighting!