Relationship Advice: How to fight fair

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.
Mahatma Gandhi

Name calling, threats of breaking up, yelling – we’ve all done it. Relationships are not always smooth sailing and conflicts can be hurtful, even when they are quickly resolved. Learning to fight fair is essential for the future of any healthy, loving relationship.

While experts say conflict is healthy – there is little material available teaching us how to fight fairly when we are upset or hurt, and it’s this information that could save our relationships and avoid any further hurt being caused. So, how can we fight fair without hurting our relationship or the partner we love?

Listen to your partner
If your partner is picking a fight with you – it may be out of character. Perhaps acknowledging that they are not in a good mood and asking what you could do to help, may be enough to prevent the argument from escalating. This is particularly useful if it is clear that your partner has already had a difficult day at work – or if it is you that has had a challenging day, be open about it rather than picking a fight.

Keep the conversation relevant
Bringing up past conflicts or other agendas that have upset you in the past, and trying to talk about them while dealing with the problem at hand, will only lead to confusion in the communication. By the end of the conflict, you both may have put all kinds of bad things together and have forgotten how the dispute started but have no resolution and be both upset and hurt. Stick to the issue at hand, identify the problem and search for a single solution, rather than likening it to other issues you may have had.

Avoid talking about the future
Now is certainly not the time to talk about the future. If you’re arguing, you’ll both be hurting and this is where one or other of you can say something you regret. Cutting off something that may or may not happen in the future because of something that is happening now is not ideal. For example, your partner leaves dirty dishes in the sink – and you’re already fighting about your in-laws – so you add: “That’s it! I’m not moving in with you while you leave your dishes in the sink!” Comments like this are unnecessary, and will only exasperate the situation and intensify your partner’s upset and anger towards you. When and if it came time to moving in with each other – both parties habits will naturally change over time as you adjust to living together. Trust that this will happen and avoid adding anything else unnecessarily.

Don’t make any decisions
Never end a relationship while you’re having a fight. Wait until things calm down, and then you can make your decision. This will save you from having any regrets about your decision and prevent your relationship from appearing on-again and off-again to those around you. Avoid making threats or saying “always” or “never” – you may regret it later.

Ensure both parties are ready before you fight
Don’t fight after one of you has already had a hard day, you’re just adding to the burden and hurting the person. If both parties are ready for a heated debate, then neither party should “win” – which ultimately damages the relationship. Know when the argument is over and let it go. Always give your partner an out to maintain their dignity. If either party are not ready to fight – don’t fight at that time, to be fair, put it on an agenda for another time. Bed time is time out – never go to sleep on an argument.

Don’t say hurtful things intentionally
Avoid the temptation of temporarily feeling empowered in an argument by using your confidential knowledge of your partner’s weaknesses and sensitive to “win” an argument. Remember, when you’re fighting fairly, there is only compromise – there are no winners.

Show that you’re listening: seek feedback and clarification
Without it feeling as though you’re entering couples therapy, open up your communication as much as possible, to find the information your partner is upset about so you can seek to correct it. “Sweety, what I hear you’re saying is that you think I share too many of our personal details with my girlfriends, is that right?” That gives your partner a chance to correct you or not. You can even ask your partner how they would prefer you to communicate and behave in future so they are happy and satisfied. Nobody intentionally wants to see their partner upset.

Be open to change and learning
Don’t waste a good fight by not learning from it. Be open to change and permit growth as you extract insight and information from each argument you have in your relationship. Implement specific and realistic changes immediately – for example, it could be agreed that if your partner appears tense, you are able to encourage them to talk about it, rather than remaining silent as has been done in the past.

Be real
If you are serious about fighting fairly and having positive outcomes from a dispute, deal with the issue at hand, not with a symptom of the problem. Be honest about what’s really bothering you, or you will walk away from the exchange even more frustrated.

Focus on the solution, not the problem
Once you finish your initial vent and release some anger, focus on finding the solution. Attack the problem, not your partner. Search for the win-win compromise. At the end of the day remember you are on the same team – you’re working towards a common goal: you both want to be loved and appreciated, and remain in a happy relationship.

Come back to it
If you start to feel exhausted or warn down from the fight, explain that you don’t think you’re going to reach a decision on it at the moment and you may need to come back to it at a later date. Give each other the ability to withdraw or change their mind.

Things to avoid
– Referring to past mistakes or incidences – it won’t help anything: it will only cause more pain and frustration to both parties
– Blaming your partner – take mutual responsibility where you can
– Comparing to others, situations or stereotypes
– Playing games – now is not the time: be straight about your feelings and direct about what you want or need in a situation
– Involving other people – the fight is between two people only
– Interrupting – maintain your respect for your partner. Also avoid negative non-verbal expressions such as rolling your eyes, smirking, yawning, finger pointing, crossing your arms, appearing bored etc
– Separation talk. Talking this way will quickly erode your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship. Trust is not easily restored once it is broken in this way
– Assuming. Always be open to your partners side, don’t try to read their mind or expect them to read yours. Find out what went wrong and how you can improve for next time
– Using defensive behaviour. Don’t defend or justify or you lock yourself into a position of right and wrong – which is like blaming. It perpetuates rather than resolves conflict
– Stonewalling. NO stonewalling when you are trying to resolve conflict. Shutting down, withdrawing, or refusing to engage is generally perceived to mean that you just don’t care about the issue at hand, or worse yet, the person to whom you are speaking. It comes across as insulting and demeaning. Communicate if you need a break, let the person know you need a break and you will resume the conversation again shortly. And keep your word!

Remember: Just because you have a disagreement, doesn’t mean your partner no longer loves you. If you are on the same team and you truly love each other, you will work it out. If the love is lost, let it go, there’s no point holding onto a hot coal or fixing something on your own. Part of being in a partnership means it will take two to work through things, every time.

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  1. How to get angry and seek healthy revenge | Happiness Weekly - July 20, 2014

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