It's inevitable - we're human beings - we're going to fight. Sometimes we allow ourselves to become so emotionally invested in a heated argument that it becomes a full-fledged FIGHT... I'm talking... knock-down drag-out fights, like Holyfield vs Tyson -- (minus the punches and violence hopefully) -- but with the same amount of passion and sometimes there's a healthy dose of hostility thrown in. Fighting in marriage, although inevitable, can cause great damage if both partners aren't well-schooled in conflict management, self discipline, forgiveness, and compromise. Fighting the right way is an art, a skill if you will, and you can learn it at any point in life - if you desire.
Fighting the right way involves a few things: preventing big blow-up fights, staying focused, having fruitful conversations, and developing a post-argument ritual. I'll give you tips on how to do each. Let's dive in...
PREVENT BIG BLOW-UPS
Big blow-ups are 100% unnecessary and almost always create more trouble than you had to begin with. Preventing big blow-ups is one key component to the success of fostering healthy communication and connection. Allowing things to fester until one (or both) of you blow is marital suicide - you become a ticking time-bomb. So how do you prevent big blow-ups?
Don't Let Things Build Up
If you do, it’ll escalate in your mind until you can't take anymore, have little to no self control, and find yourself acting out in ways that baffle even you. Bottling things up within you and not expressing yourself is unhealthy and doesn't produce successful communication.
Confront Things Immediately
That doesn't mean you confront your spouse the very moment something happens, especially if other people are around. You never want to confront your spouse (or children, coworkers, family members, or friends) in front of ANYone.
Confronting someone in front of others can embarrass them and they will lose trust in you. Wait until you're in private and have adequate time to discuss the matter. Sometimes it's great to allow both of you some time to calm down, process what has happened, and determine what exactly needs to be talked about. So timing is everything. Allowing 10 minutes isn't always enough - at least not until you've mastered the art of fighting (which does take time and practice). Set aside adequate time for your conversation, and hold your conversation as soon as reasonably possible.
Create a Fight Board
I recommend this to all my clients and it's most beneficial for diffusing arguments and helping produce fruitful conversations and solutions. Buy a small poster-board, draw a vertical line down the middle, and each of you claim one side. At the top write down your mission statement for your marriage. In the middle section, write down all the things about your spouse that you are grateful for and that you admire. In the bottom section, list a few words that inspire you to be a better wife/husband.
When you feel an argument coming on, immediately refuse to discuss what's bothering you, and commit to referring to your fight board and resuming the discussion after you use your fight board in the following way:
Pull out your fight board and take turns reading aloud what's on your board. Read your mission statements out loud, then read each other the beautiful characteristics/gifts you love and admire about each other, and lastly, read aloud the words that inspire you to be a better spouse. When you're done reading from the fight board, sit close enough to have body contact and hold hands - both of them. Make a lot of eye contact, tell each other you love each other, and then proceed with discussing what needs to be talked about. You'll be surprised at how this changes your state from pain, fear, and other negative emotions, to one of love, hope, and a desire to work together as a TEAM.
The next step to Fighting Right is staying focused on the specific topic at hand. Never 'stack' experiences. Stacking is (adding multiple past issues to the current situation at hand). The only time stacking is appropriate is if you are gently trying to point out a pattern you see, and even in this situation, you need to be careful. To stay focused you must make the commitment to focus on the issue at hand and use the necessary self control to not sidetrack and start discussing other topics. Staying focused on what you're arguing over and not going down other rabbit holes will allow you both the freedom from fear that this current conversation will turn into a long verbal vomit session that breeds hurt, attacks, resentment, and no resolution. Staying focused removes pressure and dread, and it allows you both enter the conversation on a more positive and hopeful note.
HAVE FRUITFUL CONVERSATIONS THAT YIELD POSITIVE RESULTS
The best way to ensue fruitful conversations is by incorporating a few positive elements into your discussion and leaving a few negative elements out. The positive elements you want to incorporate are: compromise, taking responsibility for yourself, remaining polite, and being respectful, appreciative, and soothing. The negative elements you want to abandon are: blame, judgement, and negativity. Here's the breakdown...
Step back and look at the overall picture. Realize that happy relationships contain lots of compromise on both people's parts.
“I share some responsibility for this because… (fill in the blank)”
Use “please” and “I would appreciate it if…”. Start sentences with “I” instead of “You.” "I" statements are more polite, less critical, and don’t put the listener on the defensive. There are few things that will make a person more defensive than “you” statements ("you never....." or "you always..."). Yikes!
Never interrupt. Ever. And no name-calling. You're an adult, no need to revert back to 8th grade name-calling. If this is you, grow up and put on your maturity pants. Your partner will be grateful.
Recognize what you appreciate in your partner and verbalize it. This builds your partner up during a difficult conversation and eases the sting of anything negative they may feel.
Soothe Yourself and Your Partner
Learn each other's push-buttons and avoid them at all costs. Know what soothes yourself and your partner, and cater to that.
It is possible to complain without blame by stating a positive need. “Here’s how I feel about (a specific situation/act/statement) and here’s what I need…” (keep it positive - meaning don't tell your spouse what you do NOT need because that becomes accusatory). Complain without blame.
Describe what is happening without placing judgement on your partner or the situation. Communicate what you see and say things in a way that will prevent your partner from feeling attacked. You aren't God - so don't judge.
No one likes to be around a negative person. Ever notice that negative people aren't even happy being with themselves? If you find yourself going to a negative place, stop and think on all the many things you are grateful for. When you are in a state of gratitude, you can't have complaints.
DEVELOP A POST-ARGUMENT RITUAL
Create a ritual that fosters peace, love and connection. Celebrate this ritual after every argument. This signals your brain, body, and spirit that the argument is over and frees your heart, mind, and soul. It will even calm your nervous system and help you move forward towards healing and moving on more easily and more quickly. In short, it helps you 'let it go'.
Fighting in marriage in inevitable, even for the happiest, most successful couples. What's important is trusting each other's intentions, maintaining respect and love, and fostering a healthy communication. Learning how to Fight Right takes practice and time, but it's time and energy well spent. Now, go create that fight board, print out these rules to keep handy for reference during your discussions, and above all, be kind, loving, and gentle to one another.
Peace to you all!