Nobody likes to think about fighting with those we love most, and yet disagreements are a natural, normal and healthy part of honest, authentic relationships. When the occasional (let’s hope) disagreement happens, I believe that actually having the disagreement turn into an actual fight is optional…without having to just turn the other cheek or bite a nasty hole in your tongue from not speaking your mind. With the right skills and a great deal of resolve, it is actually quite possible to disagree, find solutions, find understanding, feel heard and move on without ever reaching the “fight” stage. After all, ‘tis the season of peace, joy and glad tidings, right? Let’s give this a try.
Here is your pre-holiday guide to How To Fight Fair.
Happy Holidays. You’re welcome.
My top 10 rules for Fair Fighting (or the Healthy Couples Guide to Complicated Conversations):
1) Ground Yourselves
Before you start any complicated or controversial conversation, your best bet is to take a deep breath and get grounded. Check your emotions and get on solid footing first. Breathe. Release tension. Take a moment to reflect upon the relationship that exists between you and the other person and honor that connection. Start with seeing each other from a human, emotional level first. Get clear on your emotions and on theirs. Acknowledge each other’s experience in this moment. Verbally express to each other your desire to find a solution together – not against each other.
2) Set an Intention
What outcome are you hoping for? What do you need to happen at the end? Are you looking for a change or just to be understood? What is it you really need? Think about the person you are about to pry open the proverbial worm can with and make sure that what you need to talk about is necessary (pick your battles) and focused on improving the relationship or situation.Set your intention and check your motivation. See you and your conversation partner as being kind to each other and finding resolution together. If all you can envision in your mind is a hurtful fight, you are pretty sure to get one.
3) Let Time Be On Your Side
If you are welling up with tears, or one of you is in an especially bad mood, the talk can wait. But whoever calls Uncle on the talk and asks for a postponement has the responsibility to set the right time to continue and make sure it actually happens with an agreed upon time. Avoidance is not a healthy solution.
4) Avoid Blaming and Shaming
Remember; No one can “make” you do anything. Blaming others, and blaming yourself, never ends well. Purposefully shaming someone else in order to get your point across is also destructive to healthy connections. Keep your language focused on yourself. Use sentences that begin with “I feel” instead of “You did ____”. Take responsibility for your own thoughts, feeling, and actions. Your feelings belong to you and you are the only one who can make you do anything.
5) Be Clear (and Courageous!)
Ask the basic questions: what is triggering this conversation? Are you being honest about the real issues at hand? If not, why? What can you do to introduce more honesty to the discussion? Know exactly what you want to convey. No beating around the bush allowed (it won’t help either of you)! Being truly honest about your own feelings can feel very vulnerable – have courage to be real while being kind.
6) Stay on Subject
Often, when we get emotional about a particular set of issues, our emotions seem to run wild. Sometimes this causes the discussion to take jumps and leaps to irrelevant topics. But it will be more productive to stay mindful of the current discussion. So stay focused on the particular topic at hand and keep your intention intact. Another way of saying this is no assaulting each other’s character. Keep the problem solvable and don’t make it about personality flaws. Stick to the current subject and avoid detouring the conversation just to make the other feel guilty for past mistakes. Your joint goal is to uplift and promote change, not bring each other down.
7) Listen to Understand
One of the most common, and frustrating, poor communication habits that comes up for many people when stakes are high is the inability to be quiet and listen. Excitement (whether happy or agitated) is hard to contain. Stay aware of each other’s time and space and look at this as a sharing of information. You share, then I share, then you share. We don’t all share at once (that is more like a food fight with stuff flinging everywhere and nobody really being able to tell anymore what kind of food landed on them). Practice listening to understand the experience of the other person – not just listening so you know what to say next in order to “win”.
No matter how angry or agitated you might become (assuming this isn’t going as well as your intention tried to set up for you), make sure you do not ever use threats within a relationship in order to “win” an argument. Threats to leave, threats to take someone away, threats to harm someone or something else do nothing to find resolution. This is a bullying and manipulative tactic that will move you both farther away from resolution and make coming back together tougher too. Remember; something said in anger can never be unheard. Being able to trust each other, even when times are tough, is at the foundational core of great relationships.
9) Write It Out
If the subject is very emotional or very complicated, you may want to spend some time and write it all out before you sit down to talk. Many people experience a kind of emotional tailspin when trying to verbalize something difficult to express, yet the next day they can think of 20 things they wanted to say but couldn’t get words around in the moment. Write it out. Get clear. Express yourself and then check the language you wrote against the fair fighting skills listed above and rework them until you have the right words.
10) End On a Positive
Once agreement is reached (even if the agreement is to respectfully disagree), put a period on the end of it. Call it over. Don’t let an argument spill over too long. Ring the bell. Acknowledge the end of the fight, then change the tone by acknowledging the other person for their part in finding agreement (or at least making an effort). Agree to whatever you can agree to and then move on from it. Once the fight is over, this becomes “old news” and should not be used again as future ammunition (if at all possible).