Fighting Fair

By Karen DeBolt, LPC

As miserable as fighting with your partner/spouse can be at times, it is not necessarily a red flag for your relationship. Everyone fights from time to time, but if the fights are very intense or very frequent or never seem to come to a resolution, then it might be time to take a look at the way you fight rather than on just what you are fighting about. There are several ways that the way you fight can actually cause even more problems that the original disagreement.

Here are a few:

Kitchen sink fighting

Do you find that when you are in an argument that one or both of you bring up past mistakes, past hurts, or other unresolved conflicts? I call this Kitchen Sink fighting because you are bringing in everything but the kitchen sink—heck I think my ex-husband did bring up the kitchen sink in one of our fights long ago, but I digress.

Hostage taking

Another way of fighting that is counter productive to resolution is to hold your partner hostage. Many times one partner will need to take a break to calm down and to collect his or her thoughts before continuing with an argument. However, the other partner will insist that the fight needs to happen right now and will not allow the other partner to leave or take a break. This will often cause either an escalation of the fight at hand or it will cause the partner who needs the break to agree to anything to just get out of the situation. Either scenario means that true resolution is not going to happen and not only that resentment is going to build up. The hostage taker will win every battle, but ultimately will often lose the war. . .

So what do we do?

The key to good fighting is to set up some ground rules ahead of time when things are calm. Here are some ideas for good rules to put in place before your next disagreement.

  1. Take turns talking and listening—use an object to let the other person who when you are done talking and are ready to start listening. This will eliminate interrupting each other and will hopefully encourage calm listening by both parties.
  2. Keep to the topic at hand—don’t bring in that kitchen sink!
  3. Avoid absolutes—using words like “always” and “never” are a sure sign that you may be bringing in old wounds rather than keeping to the topic at hand in the here and now. Old wounds mean more intense emotions that may not fit with what is happening right now.
  4. Take a break—if one partner asks for a break, then the other partner will honor that. This doesn’t mean that the fight is over and that everything is fine now. This means one partner needs some time and will say when he or she is ready to continue. The partner who is ready to go now needs to have a back up plan for how to cope with waiting like calling a friend, journal writing, or doing spiritual practice.
  5. Give each other the benefit of the doubt—If you just met your partner, you would probably give him or her the benefit of the doubt. By staying as calm as possible and asking clarifying questions you may find that there is nothing to fight about after all.

By using rules like these in your fights, you may find that your arguments are shorter, less intense, and best of all come to a resolution. Don’t be limited by these rules either, come up with rules that work for the two of you are your particular situation. Remember if you are still having trouble that talking to a counselor can be very helpful.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.