The relationship between two people can be one of the most meaningful and rewarding parts of life. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most stressful and challenging parts of life too. Arguments and disagreements are a normal part of being together, and while they’re not always fun, they can actually be healthy—as long as both partners know how to fight fair in their relationship. Here are 8 tips to make fighting fair in your relationship much easier and much more likely to result in peace, understanding, and satisfaction on both sides of the argument.
1) Set expectations
If you’re having a disagreement with your partner, don’t just jump into it.
(1) Define what you’re talking about. Be clear about what the topic is and what you want to talk about.
(2) State what you’d like to see happen. Maybe you just want your partner to listen. Say that. Maybe you want your partner to problem solve something with you. Say that. The point is, you won’t get what you want if you don’t ask. Be clear about what it is that you’re hoping to get from the conversation.
(3) Stick to one issue at a time. So many disagreements get derailed because couples start talking about too many things at the same time and then no one knows what they’re talking about.
Establishing these three expectations will go a long way toward ensuring that both parties understand each other and that hurt feelings don’t get out of hand.
2) Let your partner share their perspective
You’ve been told that marriage is a 50/50 relationship. That you share everything—the love, your bed, and so on. But when it comes to issues that are important to you—education, career, and starting a family—it can be easy to allow those particular needs to crowd out what’s important to your partner. When you don’t make room for their views, it becomes much more difficult to create an atmosphere of compromise and conversation in your relationship.
To fight fair with someone is to be willing not only to speak up but also listen openly as well as adjust accordingly (to avoid unnecessary bickering). If you have issues that are particularly challenging or emotionally charged, try seeking professional help; therapy can be a wonderful tool.
3) Listen to understand
One of the most important tips for fighting fair in your relationship is to actually listen to what your partner is saying. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how often people’s words get lost in translation. No matter how angry you are or what you think about their behavior, make it a point to listen carefully and try not to jump ahead of them with your own thoughts. (Also known as mind reading.) If you can listen with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love, I guarantee you’ll see your relationship improve. When you avoid interrupting or responding before they’re done talking, chances are better that they’ll understand and respect your point of view too.
4) Use “I” feel statements to convey your feelings
Marriage is all about compromise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate your feelings when something’s upsetting to you. The way most people know how to communicate is by pointing out what the other person is doing wrong by using “you” statements. Never use you statements when expressing your feelings—it will only cause conflict and make your partner feel blamed. They’ll stop listening to you.
Instead, speak from your heart by using “I feel” statements such as: I feel unappreciated or I feel ignored. This way of talking acknowledges that facts are subjective, but feelings are real. Using “I feel” statements with help you both stay calm and avoid being accusatory or defensive so you can discuss sensitive issues with ease!
5) Take accountability
We’ve all been there—heated discussions in your relationship where you’re both saying I told you so, or giving each other lists of all that’s wrong. Learn to take responsibility when you mess up—even if it was unintentional. It’s easy to get defensive when your spouse accuses you of something you might be guilty of; however, it can improve your relationship if you take accountability instead of defensiveness.
Nothing gets under your partner’s skin more than your refusal to accept ownership, so it’s important that you learn how to acknowledge and own up to your mistakes. You might not be able to stop yourself from doing things that annoy or hurt your partner, but you can certainly help them feel better by owning up when they call you out on something. To fight fair with your partner, you have to be willing to listen without getting defensive.
7) Avoid trigger talk
Knowing what sets you and your partner off can help you resolve issues before they turn into full-blown arguments. Here are 3 triggers that are guaranteed to set off even the strongest couples.
(1) Using absolutes. The moment you say “you always” or “you never”, your partner literally STOPS listening to you and starts cataloging all the ways you’re wrong. The important thing you have to say is NO LONGER being heard because your partner is busy creating a catalog of all the ways you’re wrong.
(2) Telling a person what they’re thinking or feeling. This almost never ends well for your relationship. Let your partner express their own thoughts and feelings. If you think they might be feeling or thinking a certain way, ask them if that’s true.
(3) Threats and ultimatums. Sometimes people escalate with threats or ultimatums because they want their partner to hurt as bad they do…or, they want to be heard but can’t find a better way to do it. This almost always backfires! Even if you get your way in the moment, this will hurt your relationship down the road.
8) Respond with generosity
When arguing with your spouse, remember that you’re both on one team. When dealing with an issue between you and your spouse, take a moment to ask yourself if your response would help or hurt your marriage. If it doesn’t benefit either of you, then don’t say it out loud—or at least do so respectfully. Keep fighting fair by responding to problems with generosity and thoughtfulness instead of making things worse.
Here are my top ways to respond with generosity: Give when you can. Acknowledge your partner. Express gratitude and appreciation. Show patience and ask them what they need from you to feel better.
9) State what you need
Disagreements usually originate from a wish…a wish that something could be different. Remember why you brought up this topic up and tell your partner what your hopes are. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds and knowing what you want your partner to understand, or what need you want met, will help keep your disagreement on track.
Maybe you need to feel safe and supported by your partner. Or, you’re hoping that you two can make time to connect. Perhaps you want your your partner to understand how something made you feel or you want them to appreciate more. Whatever it is, make sure to let your partner know what you need. We all know that wishes don’t always come true, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
When fighting dirty becomes a bad habit…
Sometimes we say things to our significant others that hurt them. Sometimes we act out of anger or even self-interest, with no regard for how it might affect our partner. If you’re fighting dirty on a regular basis, reach out to a couples counselor or marriage therapist as soon as possible. Therapy can help to work through your conflicts and resolve your relationship issues before they can tear you apart. Getting some help can go a long way toward establishing trust in your relationship—and giving you both space to grow closer together down the road.
Knot Counseling specializes in marriage counseling and untangling complicated relationships. Learn how to fight fair and much more! Call today for a FREE CONSULTATION and ask about our sliding scale therapy.