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Fighting Fair – Do You Know How?

Do disagreements and conflicts turn into angry confrontations that hurt you and your partner? Do you feel resentful and angry when you and your partner fight? Conflict and disagreement are virtually inevitable in close relationships. How you approach these conflicts, and how you and your partner resolve the disagreements will determine whether your relationship is strengthened or weakened.

Fights are never pleasant, however, fair fights will bring about resolution of important issues that must be dealt with within the relationship. While “dirty” fighting can produce a loss of intimacy in a relationship, “clean” fights will help clear up problems and improve intimacy as partners better understand each other.

It is very difficult to know when to say something is bothering us and when not to say anything, to “just let it slide.” Nobody wants to feel like the “bad guy,” – as if we are infringing upon the other person’s rights by asking them not to take advantage of us.

Take care of small but significant issues as they occur. Don’t “sandbag,” building up a load of small grievances, hurts and hostilities that will eventually be dumped on your partner. Let go of anger produced by trivial items.

The first time you encounter a situation that irks or annoys you, do not bite your tongue and say nothing hoping it will not happen again – it will. Instead, tell your partner what it is that is bothering you, and explain why. Make sure you communicate the reason for your discontent; otherwise your partner won’t know what you’re upset about.

Approach big issues as soon as possible, ideally when both of you are prepared to deal with them. Set time aside to fight if you have to. Don’t embarrass your partner by bringing up the issue at an inappropriate time. Don’t compound the problem by avoiding the issue by pouting, sulking, or giving the “silent treatment.”

Know what you’re fighting about and be specific. Say what’s bothering you, using “I” statements — “I’m angry because …” Don’t generalize with “You always…” or “You never…” Don’t tell your partner what he or she is thinking or feeling — you are not a mindreader. Limit the confrontation to the complaint at hand and bring up one thing at a time.

If you find yourself reacting to a problem, the next time you encounter it, confront it. Confront that one specific instance. Do not dredge up the past by bringing up every example of “leaving the cap off the toothpaste,” at once.

It is not fair for your partner to have to deal with weeks or months of pent-up frustration; it is also equally your fault for not confronting the issue sooner and preventing it from occurring over and over.

Don’t dwell on issues from the past, dredging up past arguments and issues. No matter what your partner said or did before, they cannot return to the past and take back the statement or deed. That is forever a part of history. Move on.

“My headstone will probably read ‘Here lies my husband who cheated on me in 1975′,” says Alan. “It doesn’t matter that it happened one time only, my wife refuses to forgive or forget. Sometimes I’ve though that since I’m paying the price over and over for this mistake, why not earn her anger. Not that I would, but … ” Don’t let history ruin a good relationship. Forgive and forget.

Deal with your partner’s behavior, not her/his personality. Don’t name call, belittle them, “hit below the belt,” or blame them for a problem that is yours. We all too often have a tendency to say, “you are upsetting me”, which attributes the fault directly to the person. Instead we should be saying, “the dirty dishes are upsetting me, could you please clean them?” This eliminates the attack on the individual, and the defensive reaction which follows.

Do not respond immediately if you’re attacked. Count to ten. Try not to take your partner’s anger personally. Don’t counter-attack, overreact, make idle threats or issue ultimatums that you are unprepared to carry out.

Try to understand your partner’s viewpoint. Does he/she feel this way because something else may be bothering them? Perhaps an outside influence has colored their perceptions of the situation.

Listen well — give feedback to your partner that you understand her/his thoughts and feelings. Be sensitive to your partner’s needs. Try not to fight back if your partner just needs to let off steam.

When you understand how your partner feels, find out what it is he or she really wants from the confrontation. Let he or she understand that you want to find a satisfactory solution to the problem that will be a positive for the both of you. This is not a contest with a winner and a loser. Do not assume that if your partner’s viewpoint is accepted that you have “lost.”

Talk about the way each of you view the issue — are both of you sharing the same view or is it completely different? Don’t make light of the issue or belittle your partner. His or her feelings are important, just as yours are. Don’t assume he or she knows what you are thinking or feeling if you have taken a silent approach. No one is a mindreader.

There is usually more than one way to resolve a confrontation. Consider the options.

Don’t lose sight of the problem at hand and make sure the issue is resolved before going to another. Don’t pretend to go along or agree when you’re not ready to accept your partner’s view or resolution. If the fight isn’t ended now, plan to meet later to finish it and establish intermediate solutions. Don’t keep rehashing the same old arguments with no resolution in sight. Don’t make demands that cannot be resolved.

Admit if you are wrong. Be ready to forgive if your partner is wrong. Don’t turn a cold shoulder to your partner or withhold affection. Two people will never agree on absolutely everything. It’s not critical that they do. Seeing another person’s point of view expands our vision and strengthens our relationships.

Be prepared, too, that some issues cannot be resolved within some relationships. It may be the time to admit that the relationship should be ended. And that, in itself, is the resolution of the issue.

There are times, however, when the problem is with you or your partner. You may not get along with each other because you were raised in different environments and have nothing in common, or because one or both of you has grown out of the relationship. At times such as these it is difficult to remain impartial or open-minded enough to resolve differences to the point of being able to save the relationship.

When dealing with relationships, it is difficult to know what is right and wrong. You just have to do the best you can.

© Pat Gaudette