Dealing with people means dealing with disagreement. Two people in a relationship come to the table with very different ideas, values, core beliefs, and experiences, so conflict will happen.
But conflict doesn’t have to lead to dysfunction and long-term pain.
It’s possible to fight fair. It’s a skill that everyone can improve on, and it will improve every relationship when you get this right. Consider these rules to live by when it comes to conflict with your significant other:
- No name calling. Never. Ever. Ever. It doesn’t solve anything (ever) and it is a major form of disrespect. In fact, one of the most respected studies on marriage found that contempt (which includes name calling) is the number one predictor of divorce. If your fighting is out of control, a good first baby step is to decide to stop the name calling.
- Nothing physical. No slaps, punches, shoves, throwing of objects, or any other physical demonstration of your anger.
- Don’t overgeneralize. Basically, this just means to stop using words like “always” and “never” in an argument. “You never do anything around here” or “You’re always nagging” are not helpful. Address the specific situation instead.
- Choose your battles. This is some of my mom’s relationship advice, and it’s so, so true. Not everything needs to be a conflict, but some things do. Spouse accidentally backed into your mailbox? Not worth your energy to argue about. Spouse spent money that the two of you had agreed not to spend? Worth the battle.
- Pick good timing. If something bothers you, bringing it up gently right now is going to be a whole lot more healthy than waiting until you can’t handle it anymore and exploding. This is a good way to avoid arguments in the first place. Also, consider timing when bringing up a sensitive subject. If one of you is tired, already upset about something, or busy with something else, it’s probably not a great time.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Consider why the other person may be upset. Think about saying things like, “I get why you feel that way, ” or “I know you’ve taken on a lot of extra stuff at work”
- Keep your calm. Believe it or not, it’s totally possible to argue very little. I’ve seen it in other marriages and I experience it in my own marriage. I think it stems from a great friendship with your spouse and a willingness to work together. The best rule to fight fair is to not fight!
Couples that I have seen in counseling have consistently violated all of these rules, and that is a big part of why their relationship is struggling. Work hard to stick to these rules and you will reap the benefits of a fulfilling, cooperative marriage.
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