Fight fair for a fairer relationship…
The folks who appear on “The Jerry Springer Show” have it all wrong. Contrary to popular belief, throwing chairs at people or lunging across the stage to tear off their tube tops rarely works as a way to get the other person to see your point of view. Sure, it might get their attention, but I guarantee that it won’t be positive.
Even when things get heated, it's best to keep a level head and not let the fight get the best of you.
What does the trick, however, is simply listening to the other person and working together to come to a satisfactory resolution. Oftentimes, we lose sight of this goal during a heated argument or a fervent dispute, and things can quickly spiral out of control. When feelings are hurt, they can lead to vulnerable thoughts, which often turn into anger as a way to feel empowered. Good news: it’s perfectly normal to feel angry and irate – this is by no means a sign of weakness or childishness. But what isn’t such good news is that most of us let the best of the fight overcome us, and that can turn us into bullies or aggressors.
So what kind of fighter are you? Do you avoid conflict at all costs, even resorting to hiding behind furniture in order to bypass a potential blowout? Do you feel that any sort of criticism is an attack on you, including this question? Do you say mean things, seemingly possessed, only to regret it later? Do you sit quietly when confronted, to the point where the other person leaves because they think you’ve fallen asleep? Or do you keep things bottled up inside but record every grievance in your diary so that you’ll have ammunition for later?
Obviously, all of these fighting styles are counteractive and can make a relationship fizzle and die. But as excessive as these scenarios sound, we’ve all got tendencies to follow extremes when we’re angry and confused. With these tips, hopefully you’ll be fighting within reasonable bounds and, in the process, keeping the relationship healthy and strong.
Tips to Remember When You’re Squaring Off
What To Say, What Not To Say
- No name-calling. As tempting as this might sound, I am almost certain that the person will never reply to your name calling by saying, “Why, yes. Yes I am.” I am also certain that this will only serve to anger the other person and escalate the fight, and this could possibly involve someone storming off. Speak to your partner with respect – speak like you’d like to be spoken to. Attack the problem, not the person; calling someone “lazy” or “stupid” will only serve to hurt the person. And if your tongue slips, be sure to apologize right away.
- No multiple attacks. Keep the issue at hand the discussion of the night. Bringing up other unrelated matters as if they’re on a theoretical grievance checklist won’t solve anything, and will only sidetrack you from the bigger picture. Also, bringing up events or things that happened outside of your relationship, or fifteen years ago, is like treading into no man’s land.
- No listening, no solutions. If you like the sound of your voice, you’re out of luck. Listening is the greatest component for understanding, so this should be a no-brainer. During an argument, as much as we like to think that we’re listening, what we might be hearing is what we want to hear, not what is actually being said. Make sure that you focus on your partner’s points and responses, and not merely using this time to come up with a good quip and the last word.
- No blame games. Even though you can swear that everything is his fault, it’s not. Fights are created by two active participants; take responsibility for your actions. But whatever you do, don’t start blaming yourself solely for all the problems either – this can lead to an unfair balance in the relationship and an unpleasant resolution.
- No overreacting. If you’re angry about his socks all over the floor, then we can all agree that there should be a general limit to your rage. After all, socks are just socks. If you find yourself uncontrollably nitpicking at the small things, it’s time to take a step back to evaluate the root of your problems. Do dirty dishes incite your wrath? Does one forgotten phone call really warrant a freezing spell? Chances are that there are bigger issues at hand when something small becomes blown out of proportion. Try to work these out before approaching your partner.
- No exaggerating. Is he “always” late? Does she “never” take your feelings into consideration? Sure, doing it more than once can get annoying, but exaggerating faults and accusations is unfair, and not very nice. Avoid the need to embellish things to prove your point, and stick to the topic at hand.
- No clamming up. If you want your partner to share all of his or her feelings with you, then you should return the favour. If you keep your thoughts to yourself and expect that you’re having a relationship with a mind reader, you will surely be disappointed. No matter how silly or petty you think you may sound, be completely open and keep the conversation going.
- No ultimatums. It’s entrapment, and there’s a pretty good chance that you won’t get the answer that you’re looking for.
- No sarcasm or sadistic humour. Humour during an argument isn’t all bad – it can actually lighten the mood and take the edge off a fight. But too much humour, even with good intentions, can be construed as making light of a situation. Sarcasm, as well, can be taken as heartless indifference towards the other person’s feelings. There will be a time to laugh later, but for the moment, take consideration into mind before cracking a joke.
Even if you’re caught up in the heat of the moment and bearing your injured soul, which words you choose could greatly impact the course of the argument. Be honest, but also keep in mind that you’re having a conversation with another person who might also have an injured soul that doesn’t need accusations bearing down on it.
Key questions that you should ask yourself before you approach the other person include:
Once you have these introspective questions answered and are ready to talk, think about what phrases would or wouldn’t work on your sparring partner.
- What do I want? Why is it important to me?
- To get what I want, what am I willing to do to get it? What is my partner willing to do?
- If I get what I want, how will that affect my partner? What are the negative and positive results?
Steps to Fairer Fight
- Don’t say: “The problem is…” This will only seem like an attack, especially if it ends in “you, you, you.” Instead, try: “We never seem to agree about…” This shows that there is a disagreement but it’s not absolutely anyone’s fault, and that you’re willing to open up the lines of communication.
- Don’t say: “Did it ever occur to you that…” This is a leading (and loaded) question. Instead, just assume that it hasn’t occurred to the other person because they’re not consciously trying to be malicious.
- Don’t say: “Never” or “always.” It’s generalizing and hyperbole, and can make the other person feel attacked.
- Don’t say: “You,” as in, “You do this…” or “You can’t see…” Instead, try: “I,” as in, “I feel bad when this happens…” or “I become frustrated when…” Without using the pronoun “you,” this becomes about solving the problem, and not just another fun-filled berating session. Remember the goal: it’s about reconciling differences and becoming closer in the process, not about making yourself feel better.
- Do say: “I’m completely committed to our relationship and I won’t let this problem continue.” You might feel like a Dr. Phil inductee, but it will reassure the other person that you’re ready to work on the relationship – and every once in a while, everyone needs a little reassurance.
Here is a handy guideline on how to institute a fair and effective fight.
Arguments are not the best thing in the world. In fact, they probably rank somewhere between scrubbing the floor with your toothbrush and spending a night in a haunted house. But the good thing about fights is that they are integral to building strong and lasting relationships. Just like with any boxing match, a good and clean fight means no hitting below the belt and respecting your opponent – so next time you’re duking it out, keep it clean, and remember your ultimate goal: to keep the love alive. ¤ C.Ho.
- Set a time and date for your grievances, if you can. Let the other person know that you’ve got something on your mind, and that you’d like full attention when you talk about it. The other person will be more agreeable to the discussion if there isn’t an ambush in the works. Unfortunately, most fights are spontaneous and can seemingly escalate out of nowhere. In this case, just make sure that you don’t scold or criticize when you lay down your problem.
- State the area of disagreement with a heightened consciousness that it’s a two-way street, and your partner isn’t the only one responsible. Both people should express their concerns or desires. If your partner wants to be talked to, he or she would just attend a university lecture or have lunch with the boss.
- Describe your concerns about the disagreement. Again, both people should have a chance to air out gripes. While listening, do not interrupt. Refute contentions or offer explanations once the person is done speaking. Ask questions if you’re not clear on something. Try to understand the other person’s point of view, even though you might not agree with it. This will show that you care and are taking steps to make the relationship work.
- Brainstorm solutions together; two heads are always better than one. Not only will this open up the lines for communication, but it will also work to arrive at a suitable compromise. If you feel that things are looking up, use body language like holding hands or reassuring pats to convey your willingness to understand.
- Propose a solution. Outline why this solution will work for both parties. If necessary, and to make things crystal clear, repeat the steps you have brainstormed together.
- Work out the kinks. State what might not work for you, and why. Let the other person state the same before finding ways to improve the solution. When doing this, think of ways that will make the agreement work to the best benefit of both people, or things that will sway your partner to agree.
- Implement your plan. Decide on an agreed time to try this solution out. Keep in mind that no one can change overnight, and that this testing period should reflect this.
- When the time is up, evaluate your results together. Did it work the way you had hoped? Was there any improvement in the relationship?
- If at first you don’t succeed, try again. State what you would do differently, and let your partner do the same. Don’t attack the person’s character or revert back to grade school shenanigans and tell your partner that he or she did it “wrong.” Not surprisingly, this will just introduce more hostile feelings into the relationship. Once you’ve come up with a new course of action, set up another meeting time to re-evaluate the results. This may take several tries, but working through it together will ensure that both parties in the relationship are heard and understood.