9 Rules for Fighting Fair: How to have better arguments in your relationship
This post is part of a series called “Fighting Fair” is an adaption of a presentation I gave to a group of women gathered for a women’s summit at Harvard University in 2018. Resources and references linked at the end of material. Find the first part of this series, “preventative maintenance,” here.
Why do couples fight?
- free time
Did you know the biggest indicator of divorce is not IF you fight but HOW you fight?
One of the biggest problems in fighting? Problems in communication.
Psychologist David H. Olson of the University of Minnesota and his associate Amy K. Olson found poor communication to be among the top 10 stumbling blocks to marital satisfaction. The study revealed “satisfying communication” as the top predictor of happy marriage.
Out of 21,501 couples, 82% wished their partners would share feelings more and 75% had trouble asking for what they want.
Sound familiar? Clearly you aren’t alone.
9 rules for fighting fair:
Once an argument begins, follow these guidelines for disagreements that can actually strengthen your relationship (or at least minimize the damage). Try incorporating a handful of these rules in the next time conflict arises.
It can be helpful to discuss these with your partner at a time when emotions are not running high, but even if your partner isn’t on board, you can begin using these on your own to see a positive impact on your disagreements.
Use I statements:
An “I” statement shares personal feelings and gives the reasons for them.
Leave the Past in the Past
Don’t bring up past wrongs or arguments. Stick to resolving the present disagreement. If you have multiple issues, discuss them one at a time.
Figure out what you’re really arguing about
Get in touch with your own feelings to understand what you’re really upset about. Find the emotion behind the anger.
Pick the right time
Pick a time when you both can give the argument your full attention, away from distractions.
Same side, literally
Sit on the same side of the table, on the same couch, or together on the bed and visualize yourselves, together, solving that problem “over there.”
Before you respond to your spouse’s claims, seek to understand them by asking questions and restating their feelings.
“Seek first to understand, not to be understood.”
Be clear and vocal
Conflicts in which one person expects another to know what is wrong without being told are more likely to end with anger or negative communication. Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.
React to your goals and values instead of your emotions
Respond instead of react. Emotional reactions are often results of your biology (how tired, hungry, overwhelmed you are). How you feel is real but try responding to your values and goals instead of your emotions.
For example, your partner comes home after a long day and leaves his shoes in the entryway instead of putting them away. You feel anger start to bubble up inside of you because you’ve asked him put his shoes away …but also because you’re tired, very hungry, and had an emotionally draining day. You get to choose if you react to your emotion (the anger – which is a real feeling you have) or your value of having a safe and respectful relationship (where your partner doesn’t get yelled at right as he walks in the door).
Give in on something
Find something to compromise or admit to show a sign of reconciliation. Even simply admitting where you were wrong or how your partner’s feelings are valid is a good first step in creating a positive dialogue.
Some helpful phrases
‘I know you probably didn’t mean it the way it came across but when you …’
‘I miss you when we fight. Can we talk about it?’
“‘I’m sorry we’re arguing about this. What would you like to see happen?’
I said that the wrong way, can I try it again?
What can I do to make this better?
Conflict resolution model: steps to good fight:
- express views: preferably in a calm, respectful, honest way
- explore concerns: together discuss the concerns that have come up when you shared your views, summarizing what each other is saying to show you understand one another
- select solutions: after discussing possible solutions, come to one that you can both get on board with
Resources and further reading:
- The Gottman Institute – an incredible resource on relationships (start on this page)
- This Time Magazine Article on fighting in relationships
- Psychology Today’s collection of articles on fighting fair