Chances are, if you are in a long-term relationship you have probably had a fight or two. Disagreements in relationships are expected and can even be healthy and encourage growth. However, arguments can also lead to hurt feelings and trouble in your relationship if you aren’t fighting fair. Although conflict in a relationship happens, learning how to fight fair can help strengthen your relationship and keep it healthy.
1. Discuss Issues As They Arise
When you have an issue with your partner, let them know about it when it occurs. This way you are less likely to build up resentment. If your partner isn’t aware that something is bothering you, they are unlikely to change the behavior. When you let resentment build, it is easy to explode over something that is seemingly small. For instance, if your partner leaves their dirty dishes in the sink and you believe they should be put in the dishwasher, you will probably be irritated every time you see them in the sink. If you let your partner know that this bothers you, then you can come up with a compromise that you both can agree on.
2. Know What To Let Go
Since you and your partner are not the same person, there is a good chance that you will disagree at times. While there are some issues that you don’t see eye to eye on that will be important to discuss, even if you know it will turn into a fight, there will be other issues that you can let go. The key is figuring out the difference. A good way to determine this is to consider how long the issue is going to be around and how important it is to each of you. If the issue will no longer matter by the end of the day, it is probably not worth the fight. It is helpful to know yourself and your values so you can decide what you can let go. If you make an issue out of everything in your relationship, you will end up with a problem focused relationship.
3. Stick To The Topic At Hand
Focus on the current topic when you have an argument with your partner. When you bring up past problems and issues, it is difficult to resolve anything. If a past issue keeps being brought up, you might want to set aside time at a later date to focus on that issue. Keep in mind that there are some issues that are unresolvable and you will need to find some way to say what you need to say and then agree to disagree. Staying on the current topic lets your partner know that it’s important to you. If one of you changes the topic, the other can give a gentle reminder to keep the focus on the current situation. Having firm boundaries around keeping the past out of the present argument can keep your fight more fair.
4. Set Some Ground Rules
If you have rules in place that you both follow, it can keep things from getting out of hand. Name calling, yelling, belittling, sarcasm, stonewalling and withdrawing can cause the disagreement to become more of a battle. When your feelings are hurt, it’s hard to focus on coming up with a solution, as the focus is on self-protection. Having rules in place that keep things respectful can be very helpful. For instance, you could agree not to call each other names during a fight. If one of you slips and calls the other a name, the other person can give a warning first and walk away if it continues so you both can take a time out. The one that walks away should let their partner know when they will come back to continue the discussion. This way both partners know it’s the way you are treating each other that’s the problem, not what you are discussing. Having rules in place keeps the fight fair for both of you.
5. Use A Code Word
In order to keep the fight fair, you can come up with a code word to use. When the code word is used, that means that you need a break from the argument. You can use the code word when you are feeling attacked or overwhelmed. Both of you need to agree that when the code word is used, you will take a time out and resume the discussion after an agreed upon time. If you agree that when the code word is used, you will take a break for 10 minutes, after the 10 minutes are up and you’ve had a chance to calm down, you should resume the discussion. Come up with a word that you both are familiar with, but don’t use in your everyday conversations. If it’s silly or funny, it can also help de-escalate the situation. Although using a code word can help you fight fair, make sure you don’t overuse it.
6. Use Effective Communication Skills
Using effective communication skills can help keep your fight fair. Effective communication skills require you to speak from your own perspective and listen to what your partner is saying. “I” statements can be used instead of “you” statements to keep what you say about how you are feeling about the situation instead of what you think your partner is doing wrong. Another way to communicate more effectively is to repeat back what you hear your partner say, and allow them to clarify. It is very difficult to repeat back what you hear your partner say if you aren’t listening to them. Doing this can help you both feel heard and understood, even during a fight.
After a fight, it is important to repair the damage. If you win the fight, your partner loses and vice versa. You want to make sure that your relationship is still in a good place. If you were wrong, or you said something mean or hurtful, apologize. Body language, facial expression, humor and touch are ways to connect with your partner after a disagreement. The important thing is to let your partner know that you are still on the same team. Make the argument about the argument and not about the stability of the relationship.
Conflict in your relationship may be unavoidable, but learning how to fight fair can keep your relationship strong. If you have difficulty keeping your fights fair, couples counseling can help. Fair fighting is a skill that you can use to manage your disagreements and help your relationship grow and thrive.