If you are like me, you’ve found yourself standing in the aftermath of a firestorm called a fight. You feel burned, damaged. Bitterness has taken root. Your heart, once open, is now closed—protected behind armor so you can’t be hurt again. Although you bury the pain, it smolders like a burning ember and pollutes your love or marriage relationship forever. Or you split up.
Personally, it wasn’t until I got a bit older and looked at my bone yard of broken love relationships that I realized how important the issue of fair fighting is. There is nothing more important than how you fight or express your upset. How you handle conflicts can determine the course of your entire love or marriage relationship. It influences whether or not you are perceived as trustworthy and a safe person with whom to disagree.
In my practice as a therapist I have witnessed a veritable wasteland of love relationships, countless marriage relationships lost or damaged because people didn’t know how to fight fair. The result was unhappy homes, bitter divorces, and countless tears and frustration.
Here is a list of 10 Love, Marriage Relationship MUSTS for fair fighting. These rules are important and may require practice. In the heat of the moment, they may seem difficult to apply. You and your mate will succeed if you have the honest intention to clean up your relationship, because you can always go back and talk later when you are calmer and in a better space.
1. If you feel a slow burn, STOP! Often when you get mad it feels like an eruption. You feel a rush of anger or rage that sweeps your entire body and mind. It may feel like you lose your train of thought or you forget what you want to say. You want to explode at the other person. Stop! It’s not the right time to talk.
2. Remember this is not your enemy. Right now, your survival system sees your beloved as a threat, the enemy, and a source of pain. Only survival counts. So you may feel inclined to say anything, fight with all your might, win at all costs. It’s a big mistake!
3. Avoid mental/emotional associations with your love or marriage relationship that don’t serve you. When you get upset you are “activated.” Your survival system has begun making associations, or links, between your beloved and those who hurt you in the past. An inner voice may be saying things like: “This is what all women do.” Or: “This is what my Dad used to do, and I don’t want to be in a relationship with my dad.”
4. Take a “time out.” Ask: “Am I too upset to resolve this right now?” If the answer is yes, you need a break and some distance. Notice, I didn’t say storm out. I didn’t say, slam the door, bolt to your car, and burn rubber as you speed away. Keep your head and say, “I am too upset to talk about this right now. I need a break and to get out of here for a little while. Let’s talk later.” Sometimes tiny skirmishes dissipate naturally. If you feel the anger dissipate naturally, let it go.
5. Stay on the topic at hand. “Emotional vomiting” is off limits. This is not an opportunity to unload all the upsets you have not been holding in. Let some things go. If you use this as a dumping ground you will start a painful fighting cycle with no end.
6. Let your partner save face. If you are fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong, you will both lose. In one couple’s counseling session, the woman kept correcting the man’s memory of the facts. Then she complained about how mean he was getting when he asserted his memory. She didn’t see that he needed room to save face and feel like he was right, too. She needed to drop the facts. Ask yourself, “Do I want a harmonious love relationship or to be right?”
7. Both partners must get a full turn. To start say: “OK, let’s take turns. You go first and I will listen, and then let you know what I have heard you say. When you are done, it will be my turn to speak.” If he says, “I am angry that you leave the counter dirty,” say, “What I hear you saying is that it makes you mad.” Then you can ask, “Why does this make you angry? How else does that make you feel?” When you have heard your partner’s point of you, it will be your turn to talk about your feelings. Make a sincere effort to fix upset areas.
8. Try to stand in your partner’s shoes and see the world from his/her point of view. Wanting to understand does not mean you are “giving in” or being weak. It means your love or marriage relationship comes first. You want to the bottom of the conflict so you can resolve it. Being understood is the number one diffusion technique in any conflict. It can prevent years of marriage counseling. You can say, “What I hear you saying is …” Drop your pride and be willing to say that you apologize even if you don’t think you did anything wrong. Intentions are not always interpreted as they were meant. You say, “I am sorry, I do see how it could have come across that way.” Only then will they be open to hear your point of view.”
9. Offer a heart-felt apology. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to do anything wrong if the other person in your marriage or love relationship feels offended. You can say, “I am sorry. I do apologize for that. I can see your point of view and imagine how that would feel.”
10. Do not under any circumstances call names. When you call your love a bitch, bastard, whore, asshole, idiot, stupid, and so on, you are being abusive. You may win the current battle but your marriage or romance will suffer. Don’t be surprised if you need marriage counseling or your love relationship suffers.
Keep in mind, both of you have a right to feel the way you do. What counts is being heard and understood. You friendship, love or marital relationship can grow, deepen and be a place of safety, love and expansion when you follow these simple rules.