Have you ever found yourself fighting with the same person about the same thing over and over again without getting anywhere? Maybe you fight about every little thing without coming to any type of agreement or solution.
You have no control over the other person, which means you cannot base your behavior on the other person in the fight.
In this article, we’ll discuss some fair fighting rules for effective and productive conflict resolution in relationships.
Fair Fighting Rules for Relationships
Before you begin, ask yourself why you are upset
Have you ever started a fight just because you were upset? You get home from a long day at work and see that the house is a mess. You start yelling at your kids, your significant other, or roommate to clean up after themselves and that they are irresponsible. After the fight, you regret yelling and beat yourself up about it.
The key to fair fighting is figuring out why you are upset because of starting the fight. If you can recognize that you are upset because you got yelled at by your boss and then found out that your big project was picked apart, you probably will react differently when seeing the house a mess when you get home.
How do you do this though? It is about implementing mindfulness techniques to keep you in the moment and aware of your emotions. Take a few deep breaths and pause to think about why you are upset. If the answer is work, walk straight to your happy place in your home and take a break to get back to your baseline.
Discuss one issue at a time
More often than we would like to admit, a fight starts with something small and turns into a fight about something much larger and emotionally draining. You start the fight with the person driving turned the wrong way and by the end of the fight, you are talking about how he never listens and that you feel disrespected.
If the issue is that they did not turn the right way, that is all that you are fighting about. You may not bring up anything else in that discussion. It takes a lot of work to be able to get to the point where you are not bringing in more than one topic, but it can transform your fights into being productive and solution focused.
It might be helpful to write down what it is that you want to bring up to the other person and mark one topic off at a time after they have been discussed. This will keep you focused on what it is that you want to talk about and will help you talk about one item at a time.
No degrading language
If you are overwhelmed and emotions are running high, calling someone a b**** will not help the situation. It might feel good for you to release your anger, but it will only put the other person on the defensive. There is little chance at this point to have a productive fight. If you tend to use degrading language when you are upset, there are some ways to let out anger while still keeping an argument productive.
Instead of saying, “you’re an idiot,” you might say, “I don’t understand why you did that, can you explain it to me?” Be curious and ask questions rather than making assumptions. If that doesn’t work for you, write down what you really want to say to the person and then tear it up or burn it instead of using this degrading language in the fight.
Make sure that the fight is about the issue and not the person. This means that if you are fighting about the dishes never being done after dinner, that is what you are fighting about. You are not fighting about how irresponsible and lazy the person is for not doing the dishes.
Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them
When emotions are running high, it is hard to stay cool calm and collected. Being able to express your emotions with words rather than tone, volume, and non-verbal communication is hard, and might be awkward at first.
If you are angry, say, “I’m angry,” rather than yelling or using a sarcastic tone to express your anger. If you are disappointed, say, “I’m disappointed.” One great way of expressing and taking responsibility for your emotions is by starting to use “I” statements. These statements allow you to talk about your emotions in the situation without blaming someone else for making you feel that way.
For example, your teenager stayed out later than they were supposed to and now you are worried and fearful something might have happened to them. They are not picking up their phone and right as you are about to call the police, they walk through the door.
Your first reaction might be to yell at them and ground them. This is not using an “I” statement, and will probably just make them mad at you and nothing will be solved. If you can take a deep breath and use an “I” statement this might prevent them from ignoring your calls the next time they are late.
By saying, “I become afraid for a person’s safety when I expect someone home at a certain time and they are late and I cant get ahold of them.” “Next time I just need you to let me know where you are if you aren’t home on time.”
You still might not let them go out for a few nights after that because they didn’t make it home for curfew, but you were able to avoid a screaming match when they got home late.
Take turns talking
Taking turns talking sounds easy right? When emotions are running high and you feel like you aren’t being heard, or disagree with the other person, it is hard to hold your tongue and wait for the other person to finish their thought. You can also get stuck the thought, “if they are going to interrupt me, I’m going to interrupt them.”
This, however, is never productive. One of the most important aspects of having a productive fight is feeling heard. If you know this about yourself, then make sure that you are giving that to the other person. They might need to take a moment to think about what to say, let them pause without interrupting them.
This is not your opportunity to jump in, this is their moment to stop and think of how the best way to say what they are thinking. What happens if the other person is not respecting this rule? That is when you can use rule number 8 and take a break until the other person, or you can get back down to baseline to be able to restart the fight in a better head space.
What does stonewalling mean? Stonewalling is when you shut down and stop participating in the fight. Some people might see this as just not wanting to argue, and “if you cant say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” This is great when it comes to superficial relationships where it might not be worth it to express your feelings.
When you are in a relationship, you are more likely to harbor these negative feelings towards the other person, never deal with them and then explode on your partner all at once when you cant hold it in anymore.
It is important to express how you feel in the moment so that you can solve the problems in the moment. Using phrases like, “I feel…” and “I noticed that I was thinking…” to express what you are experiencing in the conversation. This way, you are taking responsibility for your emotions and addressing them in such a way that you are not accusing the other person.
Why would no yelling be a rule in fighting? When you are yelling or have a disrespectful tone, that is the only thing that the person is hearing. They are not hearing the words that you are saying they are just registering that you are yelling at them. When someone yells in the discussion, it puts the person that they are yelling at on the defensive.
When you or someone else in the conversation is feeling attacked, or needing to defend themselves, it closes the conversation and turns it into a fight. Be mindful of the volume of your voice, even if you feel like you are not yelling, just raising your voice, the other person might interpret that as yelling and will have the same effect of shutting the open conversation down.
Take a timeout if things get too heated
If you find yourself yelling and screaming and breaking these fair fighting rules, that is okay, just take a break from the conversation. Not everyone can follow these rules all of the time, you just need to know when you are not able to follow them and walk away before breaking too many of them.
Taking a time out does not mean that the conversation is over and you don’t have to go back to the topic, it just means that you need a break to practice some coping skills and reset your mindset. It is important to come back to the conversation if you feel like things have not been resolved.
Attempt to come to a compromise or understanding
Compromising and understanding do not mean that you have to come to an agreement. This is where the phrase, “agree to disagree” comes from. What does need to happen though, is that you validate the other person and let them know that their opinion is valid and worth having.
If you are fighting about what T.V. show is the best, you can validate why the other person might like that T.V. show, and understand why they might like it, but you do not have to agree that it is the best. The same goes for more serious topics. If you and your partner are not in an agreement with what house you are going to buy, this might take more of a compromise.
One person gets the living room that they like and one person gets the backyard that they like. It is also important to know when the other person is not going to compromise and finding a way to be okay with their boundaries, such as the number of children that they want to have.
It would then be your decision to be okay with their hard boundaries or end the relationship. When you are working with someone with inflexible boundaries, it is always best to seek the help of a therapist to help you with communication skills and to make hard decisions.
Where to get help fighting fairly
Looking for a therapist for your relationship can feel daunting but there are some tips on how to find one that fits you and your loved one. First, find a couple of therapists in your area, or if you feel comfortable, finding one online can be a great option.
Schedule a first session with two or three therapists and see who you and your partner feel most comfortable with. You should look for someone who makes you and your partner feel welcomed and supported. A great place to start is looking through the profiles of therapists on the Seattle Christian Counseling website.
Look in the profiles for someone who has a specialization in couples therapy and communication. Don’t be afraid to ask the therapist questions to see if they are a good fit for you before starting. Just because one therapist is not a good fit, don’t give up, there is the right therapist out there for you and your partner to work on communication with.
“Young Bears Fighting”, Courtesy of Kuhnmi, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “They ARE”, Courtesy of Celynek, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “US”, Courtesy of Harsha K R, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Gathering Storm Clouds”, Courtesy of Kevin Burkett, Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 License