Fair fighting rule: A positive environment minimizes a destructive fight
Create the right environment so that when a conflict does occur, it is not overwhelming. To do this, partners need to respond regularly to one another in a positive fashion. We all yearn to love and be loved, to be seen, heard, and known—to matter. These yearnings are calls for attention: those everyday moments when we share a thought, an observation, an “I love you,” and we hope or expect our partner will respond with a laugh, a hug, or an acknowledgment. Couples whose interactions are brimming with these sort of positive exchanges create an atmosphere over time that tips the scales toward the creative rather than the destructive when the inevitable conflicts do arise. They’ve created the right atmosphere for the conflict itself to be positive. Here are powerfully simple ways to diffuse a fight with your partner.
Fair fighting rule: Avoid destructive behaviors that only make things worse
Disengagement behaviors like avoiding, stonewalling, withholding, keeping secrets, or being zoned out are detrimental to you and your relationship. Disengagement is the pretense of involvement, where you’re “kind of, sort of there” but only half-heartedly active and not really conscious of your real yearnings, your real heart. If all you ever argue about is politics or sports, or if you’re whining about superficial things that don’t get to the core of your issues, you’re not being productive. A pattern of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and withdrawal is the result of negative engagements. It can destroy a relationship.
Fair fighting rule: Don't over-blame
Perhaps you fail to communicate what you want, actively bait your partner, don’t set limits, or nag rather than act constructively. Or perhaps it’s your partner who is engaging in these ways. No matter who instigates an argument, you are both part of a relationship, and whatever happens in that relationship, you both have a part in it. So when you find yourself assigning blame, remind yourself that the highest percentage of blame that you can assign is 50 percent. You’re in this together. If you want to work it out, you have to share the blame. These wise quotes can help stop an argument in its tracks.
Fair fighting rule: Don't rely on your partner for your own happiness.
It is not your partner’s responsibility to make you happy. It is yours alone—although, of course, we should support out partners. If you want something different, it is up to you to make it happen. What do you truly want? Nagging, blaming, and complaining are not what it takes to change things and make you happy. Remember, it took you years to become you and for your relationship to develop; therefore, it is unrealistic to expect change to happen immediately. Progress is made by persistence and priorities. Continually share your yearnings, and engage fully and responsibly to develop more clarity and understanding.
Fair fighting rule: Acknowledge when your partner says something that is true
Too often, fights rage on with a great deal of truth being said on both sides, but neither you nor your partner acknowledges that truth. In fact, many fights will end when one person acknowledges the truth of what the other is saying, because the truth is often what the person is fighting for. They yearn to be affirmed. A rule of thumb: Acknowledge any time your partner says something that is true, even when you are mad. Accepting the truth can break an argument’s logjam. By the same token, admit when you are wrong. An amazing amount of goodwill can be won by focusing on the truth and being willing to lose a fight. Losing the fight can mean winning the relationship. By the way, these relationship fights are totally normal and healthy.
Fair fighting rule: Don't fight for the sake of fighting
Too often we fight defensively about silly things or in counterproductive ways. We get sidetracked on "who said what" battles or debates of minutiae. This rule of engagement requires you to have conversations where you fight for something rather than just fighting against you partner. You recognize what you want and yearn for, and you express yourself fully, responsibly, and, often, vulnerably. The point is to engage in arguments with a purpose. When you are fighting for something, creative solutions can emerge for both sides, which is the key to win-win conflict resolution.
Fair fighting rule: Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
No one will always argue perfectly. One side can hurt the other side. People can act meanly when they’re fully engaged. This means that assuming goodwill is absolutely a necessity; it is also a skill that must be learnt. You have to consciously assume goodwill and look for the positive in your partner and your relationship, rather than assuming that your partner has it out for you. Assuming bad will, scanning for what our partners are doing wrong, how they don’t appreciate us, or, worse, how they are trying to sabotage us causes us to miss the good stuff that our partner is doing and to perceive negativity that isn’t there.
Get more fair fighting skills in 'The Heart of the Fight'
Judith Wright is a couples and lifestyles coach, and Bob Wright is an executive coach and educator. The couple co-founded the Wright Foundation, a coaching and training institute, and the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential; both are based in Chicago. The Wrights are also the authors of Transformed!: The Book of Spectacular Living (Turner, 2012). In their 2016 book The Heart of the Fight (from which this advice has been excerpted), they take readers through the 15 most common fights, what they really mean, and how these fights can bring couples closer.