If you are married or in a serious relationship, I bet it’s fair to say that you have had disagreements with your partner. For most of us, that’s putting it lightly.
It’s only natural that spouses that spend so much time together are going to have conflicts.
Whenever we do fight, it is critical that we use healthy conflict resolution skills and fight fair!
Remember, when an argument arises, your goal is to resolve the issue at-hand and not to hurt your loved one.
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A healthy and marriage-oriented style of conflict resolution strives for two winners through compromise and understanding. If your actions are not conducive to resolving the issue at hand, then you are not fighting fair.
Of course, this is easier said than done in the heat of the moment.
Fortunately, by adopting some simple rules for fair fighting, you really can allow cooler heads to prevail and resolve conflicts without causing long-term damage to your relationship.
My wife and I learned about these easy-to-remember-rules when they were presented by another (older and wiser) couple at a Pre-Cana marriage preparation course where we were instructing on a different subject. Their topic was communication, and healthy conflict resolution is a vital aspect of good communication.
Like most good advice, these rules for fighting fair are provided in the form of a great acronym: FIGHTS.
Face each other
Look into each others eyes as you discuss problems.
This is particularly difficult for those who are used to guerrilla warfare – shouting some nasty comment, slamming down the phone or slamming a door – leaving no room for discussion because your partner is absent. However, two people can be in the same room and still be absent.
Put down the paper or turn off the TV, and come out of hiding. You both need to participate.
Focus on resolving only the problem at hand. Avoid raising side issues.
Guard your tongue
Avoid ridiculing and name-calling.
Name-calling is like swearing, and it attacks your partner’s character. Once name-calling enters the fight, your partner won’t hear anything you say, no matter how right you might be.
He becomes too busy thinking about how to defend himself instead of listening to you.
Hold the history
“You always”, “why can’t you ever”, and “you never” are examples of history. And history doesn’t belong in your arguments.
Bringing up history indicates to your partner that nothing will ever change and that the past has not been forgiven or forgotten.
Hold hands. This position softens the heart and makes us feel vulnerable to each other.
We are more willing to be reasonable and caring than to win at all costs when we hold hands.
Stay in there
Finish the fight. Don’t go to bed with unresolved anger.
Finally, you must be open to compromise. You can walk hand-in-hand without always seeing eye-to-eye.
If you and your spouse take these rules to heart during a calm time, you can set healthy ground rules for conflict resolution that will serve you well in your marriage.
When my wife and I argue and come to realize that we’re out of bounds and not following the “fighting fair guidelines”, one of us says “we’re not fighting fair” and we look at each other and laugh.
Then we get back to actually working to resolve the real issue.
Great acronym and good advice! I’m covering this topic also through a different acronym. I appreciate your work.
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As I mentioned in my tweet to you about this article, the only thing I disagree with is the idea of hanging in there, i.e. don’t go to bed without finishing the fight. While that probably works for healthy couples who can do the other 5 things you mention, for many couples who struggle with conflict and have not developed an approach that truly works, that can be dangerous and counterproductive advice. Many make the mistake of bringing up issues later in the evening, and when they do, they bring them up poorly, starting a round of unproductive arguing that is compounded the later it gets, and the more tired they become. It’s best if couples can establish a rule not to raise hot issues after a certain time, like 9pm, for example. If they have discussed an issue for 30 minutes and have gotten no where, they probably need to stop, set up a time/appt. to return to the issue once they’ve had the opportunity to rest and think about it. Pushing through at that point generally leads to the law of diminishing returns kicking in. Take time to think, ponder, and pray. Then return the next day to the issue.
Just my “two cents”.
Amen to that. Sometime letting it lie for the night give perspective especially because most fights, for me take place at night when everyone is tired. It’s a lot harder to resolve then than later, I think.
Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment here! You have a great blog and I encourage my readers to check it out for a larger scope of single and family life information and tips.
Thank you for an excellent and insightful comment. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, and I think you make a great point. If a relationship is not mature enough, you could have a situation where “issues” are brought up right before bed (perhaps on purpose), and this could lead to resentment and further escalation as exhaustion/frustration make a reasonable discussion an all-out fight.
Your suggestion of a “rule addendum” of sorts is great. Don’t bring up issues after 9:00 p.m. and then you could agree not to go to bed angry. I agree that starting a fight at midnight and expecting it to be resolved before dawn is not the right approach for most couples.
I also want to clarify the mission here at Engaged Marriage. I see that you are a counselor, which is fantastic. I am not a counselor, and this blog is not for those with deep problems in their marriage. It is instead intended to help those with good marriages take them to a new level of excellence. If serious issues are present, I would highly encourage a couple to seek counseling. Your insightful comment demonstrates why this can be a wise move.
Should post these on my fridge… 🙂
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Sarah, thank you for stopping by, thank you for the link back to this site, and thank you for your work in spreading the good word about Natural Family Planning!
Great post. I find the difficulties and choices made by couples in how they resolve disputes to be fascinating. Learning “how” to fight is an important skill for any couple. I’d love to read more on this topic.
Here’s a recent article I particularly enjoyed on couples’ fighting fair: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/thems-fightin-words/
I’d love to see more like it. Thanks!
Thanks for your comment, Mike. And thank you for sharing the link to a great article. It is definitely a fascinating topic!
I love that you include FACE-EACH-OTHER and TOUCHING as conflict resolution skills. Yes! We teach a similar way of reconnecting in the midst of conflict. When we bring ourselves into non-verbal harmony, it becomes easier to compromise.
Thanks for your comment, Diana. Those two actions definitely make you more vulnerable and create a lot of openness between a couple, even in the middle of a fight.
By the way, I checked out your site. Your retreats certainly sound like a lot of fun!
Love your tips! Thanks for sharing these. 🙂 In addition to your post, to be able to resolve conflict, couples should nip the problem in the bud. Don’t play mind games or beat around the bush. Stop the blame game as to who did what, etc. and instead focus on what you want, what you value. You’ll be able to build a truly happy relationship if both of you know what you want to get out of the relationship.
Thank you, Linda! I agree that remaining focused on what you want and not “playing games” with one another goes a long way toward successfully resolving conflict.
Thanks for writing this post. Now everything is clear for me.
Great advice Dustin! I would like to add just one more bit of advice. Sometimes it is healthy for couples to physically separate themselves from each other when a discussion of an issue turns into a heated argument. Anger only invites more anger. I advise couples to exit the situation once one or both becomes angry. This does not mean that the issue will be ignored, but rather this exiting strategy will give both people the opportunity to revisit the issue together while in a calm state of mind.
Thanks, Abigail! I totally agree with your advice…and that’s a great looking website/service you provide. 🙂
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About the history thing….
I don’t believe in saying “you always” or “you never” because of course that’s not true, and it puts the other person on the defensive. But what if the issue at hand is an attitude or bigger issue that generates behavior, and similar behaviors keep cropping up? Isn’t it appropriate then to bring up earlier examples as a pattern of behavior? Is that considered history? Should we avoid bringing up things when we keep getting hurt the same way (such as being controlled/micromanaged), just with slightly different behaviors?
It’s easy to say, “I’m sorry” when your spouse confronts you about micromanaging how you wash the dishes. In an isolated or uncommon case, that’s appropriate. But when the micromanaging also includes how and what you cook and what you wear, and is paired with mockery and veiled insults, there’s a much bigger issue.
I have a video that I would like to share on how to have a fight. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmM_x_VtLls&feature=colike
My husband and I just got married in February after living together for 9 years. Didn’t realize how HARD marriage is!! We literally spent hours one night trying to resolve an issue. It was hard working up the nerve to approach him. But no matter how many times one or the other would stalk out and pace for a minute or two, we keep coming back and trying again. It was a hard lesson for both of us, but we learned that we have to be able to talk things out without feeling “hurt” and without our defenses (read walls) coming up. Then just yesterday I read your article on the rules of fighting. And ended up putting them into use last night. He made a jibe towards me, and I called foul – against the marriage fighting rules. He immediately took a step back and apologized. Later, he started to bring up history and again I called foul. Shortly after that we were able to resolve our issue. I just want to say a big “Thank you!”. Your site is going on my favorites bar, because I have a feeling I’m gonna be using you a lot!! P. S. Maybe it’s hard because we both want it to work and we’re willing to work on it.
That’s fantastic, Kim! I’m so glad to hear that these strategies worked for you, and thanks so much for sharing your success.
This was realy helpful for me especially because I dont fight fair. So next time I willl keep this in mind.