In “Three Tips on How to Fight With Your Significant Other,” I shared basic strategies for approaching and thinking about conflict with our SO.
Great, maybe tips on how to fight is enough. Maybe it isn’t. So, now I am going to suggest some rules. To be clear, these are our rules in our relationship, they don’t have to be yours. Pick, choose, rework, whatever you have to do to make these rules helpful in your world. Some of these are unspoken in our marriage, some are outright invoked mid-argument.
And, we make no exceptions. For example:
Recently, we were at a birthday party for a friend. As the party wound down, my husband, her husband, and a handful of others decided to play poker. This is a regular event for the men in the neighborhood: the round robin poker party. Our friend went to bed and the men found themselves down a player. They asked me to play. It has been awhile and I threw a wrong card. No big deal. Except my own husband began to heckle me, bad language and all. Up went my index finger (yes, index, not middle).
“We don’t talk to each other that way, I don’t care where we are!”
He mumbled sorry, the other guys chuckled, and we played for several hours, much to the glee of his friends. See, apparently, I had changed the rules of play for my husband. He was usually the entertainment for the game with colorful language and merciless haranguing of the other players. He was so well behaved that they asked me to play more often. He would prefer not and I will respect that.
The point is that there are productive and unproductive ways to fight or communicate:
- Fight, don’t avoid the conflict.
- Talk and listen, absolutely no physical or emotional blackmail or violence.
- Use empathy. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Avoid blame & excuses.
- Encourage open expression of feelings or facts. Be aware of behavior used to silence the other person’s speech or expression. These are things like screaming, crying, yelling, or developing a headache or shortness of breath. Stop it or call the behavior out.
- Stay in the present conflict. Don’t unload a dump truck or gunnysack of past transgressions into a conversation.
- Be honest and don’t maneuver or manipulate.
- Express love or caring during the fight, even when it’s difficult. Rejection, withholding love or affection to sway another person accomplishes nothing and destroys trust. If making the other person feel bad about who they are is your fight strategy, rethinking the relationship should be the next step.
- Always fight fairly. Bringing up insecurities, inabilities, or past failures is below the belt and shows that the purpose of the fight isn’t to resolve an issue.
- And, lastly, you decide how you will be treated, touched, or talked to. If it is something you do not like, then disengage until the other person can respect you. This is not a tool to be used for manipulation or to get your way. It is the bottom line of what is acceptable.
Some people claim if you fight hard, you are passionate in your relationship. This is not absolute. Each relationship is different. Definitive statements like this are often made to justify what’s happening in the person’s own life. Only you know if this statement is true or false in your own relationship. Yes, fight hard. But fight fair and know what you are fighting for. Conflict for the sake of conflict just causes stress. It destroys trust.
Here’s what I know. Conflict is neither good or bad. It just is. What you do with the energy it generates is what matters. Fighting either helps us grow personally and strengthens our relationship or it destroys both. Trust is created when we communicate through conflict and resolve it while valuing the other person and ourselves.