Fighting Fairly

Feb 11, 2013

Though there was a lot of changes and realizations I went through after I put both feet back in the boat and recommitted to our marriage, one of the most influential on our relationship was learning how to fight well. This might seem an odd topic when you’re talking about restoring a relationship, but though odd, I promise it is necessary.

You’ve probably heard about good communication strategies at one time or another, and like me, you may have passed them off as silly. Because really some of them do sound silly! However, I cannot tell you the number of fights these types of strategies have helped us to resolve and dissolve. Here are the ones that helped us most:

When NOT to argue…

  • Don’t argue when you’re both very angry. Instead schedule a time to talk later.
  • If the other person still wants to fight, you may need to firmly but kindly say something like:
    • “I will be happy to discuss this with you when you’re calm.”
    • “You’re treating me like X and that is not okay. (Where X might be “like a child,” “unfairly,” “disrespectfully,” etc…)
    • Then walk away from the fight, and don’t engage on the issue until the other is willing to discuss the matter calmly.

Over time I’ve learned that using phrases like these are respectful to the other person while also enforcing healthy boundaries for how you expect to be treated in the relationship. In our relationship, I’m the one with the temper, so at the beginning, Jeremy did use similar phrases to enforce his boundaries. Sure it made me mad, but it also helped me to change the way I approached disagreements.

  • Do not take part in unhealthy or pointless fights.

For instance, if you know us in real life, you know Jeremy is a jokester and I’m so not. When we first got married, he was able to get under my skin all the time with his joking. But now I know the signs. When I see he’s baiting me to just stir the pot, I call him on it and step out of the argument. I simply say with a smile, “Ha! I know what you’re doing, and I’m not going to bite.” Then we usually both laugh and go on with our day.

How NOT to argue…

  • No sandbagging (bring up hurts/fights from the past)
  • No blaming
  • No using phrases like, “You always…”
  • No name calling. Ever.

A sure fire way to escalate a fight is to do any of these things.

How To argue…

  • If possible listen to Eph. 4:26-27:

    Be angry and do not sin; do not let sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Before you go to sleep try to kindly and respectfully work through the issues at hand, even if it means staying up later to do it. Sometimes one or both of you are so angry, you need to schedule another time to talk, and that’s okay but it won’t always be the case. I can tell you from experience that the devil can get a foothold when I ignore Paul’s advice. When I haven’t listened, I often blow the issue way out of proportion before I drift off to sleep. Plus, you’ll probably lay awake if you’re mad anyway, so why not make that time more productive?

  • Begin by apologizing for your part in the fight, no matter how small.
  • No excuses! Phrases like, “I sorry, but…” only cancel out anything you just said and pass the blame on to something or someone else, instead of accepting responsibility for your actions.
  • Then use phrases like:
    • “When you say X, I hear Y.”
    • “When you do X, I feel Y.”

Phrases like these acknowledge what the other person said or did, but instead of making a judgement call they tell how those words and actions effected you. I have found phrases like these also help to keep me from yelling or lashing out angrily, and instead help me to think through what I’m really feeling and thinking.

  • Do actively listen
  • Do remember each others”language”
  • Do be mindful of each others differences in personality and communication

Just recently Jeremy and I were in a pretty intense disagreement over something, and spent a good 30-45 min during a car ride discussing it. After that time, we both finally spelled out what we were hearing from the other. What we were hearing was not the truth. Once we cleared up what we were intending to say, we realized we really did agree! What a waste!

The main reason that argument went on for so long was due to our differences in personality and communication. In our relationship, Jeremy is a big picture person. He can look at one part of something and make the connection/application to a whole host of other parts and situations. On the other hand, I’m a details person, which means that though I may see all the little parts he doesn’t, I have to remember to make the connection to the bigger picture. Most off the time I don’t. This differing of view points is where our car disagreement happened. Jeremy was looking and communicating from a big picture view, where as I was looking at the details. When we finally spoke in the others language, we figured out we were talking about the same thing.

The Results (Prayerfully)…

After years of practice, we follow these guidelines fairly well. And I’ve been even known to say that one of my favorite parts of our relationship is how we fight, because for the most part, we have learned to disagree respectfully and kindly, and instead of damaging our relationship, our disagreements actually help to strengthen it.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “My spouse will never agree to this!” Don’t worry. Jeremy and I never once had a sit down conversation about how we would fight better or more respectfully. Never. Instead, I began to treat him this way when we fought, and over time he adapted the way he fought and argued, too. Remember that when you grow and change, the people around are forced to adapt. The same thing goes for arguing. When you no longer engage in the old patterns yourself, it makes the other person have to adapt, hopefully for the better.

I know these ideas might seem strange and awkward now, but I promise from seven years of experience, they work! As you walk into this week, decided to try out just one or two of the ideas above. I’ll be praying that they will help your relationship as much as they have helped mine.

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