Fair Fighting – Some Ground Rules for Resolving Marital Conflicts 

As we mentioned in our last segment, successful marriages go through a conversion where in each person stops thinking like a single person and learns to think like a married one. This change is an enormous accomplishment which takes time, effort and may involve many skirmishes along the way.

Sometimes the process can be very discouraging. Recently I heard a man say he felt like he” just couldn’t win” in arguments with his wife and wondered if he always have to “just give in” ? There are two factors which contribute to discouraged feelings like this: Unrealistic expectations about conflict in marriage (i.e. there shouldn’t be any) and unfair fighting. Today we’re going to talk about how couples overcome discouragement by learning to fight fairly.

Un-Fair Fighting

The opposite of fair fighting is un-fair fighting and we all know what this is. Unfair fighting comes out of a single person’s mentality and characterized by being:

  • Reactive
  • Emotionally driven
  • Focused on Winning or defeating the other
  • Without limits regarding what it will use to win.

The primary strategy is to create an emotional distraction away from the real issue.

Common Un-Fair Tactics

  • Yelling
  • Name calling or degrading language
  • Blaming
  • Humiliating
  • Threats of divorce ; infidelity; withholding money sex ;
  • Cut offs and Withdrawing (emotional, and physical)
  • Physical threats and violence.

Fair Fighting

Fair fighting is a structured and disciplined process for resolving interpersonal conflicts which:

  • Is Pro Active
  • Is Reason based
  • Is Focused on the Relationship and individual respect
  • Operates within clearly defined limits and rules.

In Fair Fighting parties agree from the outset that the health of the relationship is the highest value and thus limits are placed on what can be said or done to resolve disagreement. Fair fighting places a higher value on respecting each individual in of the relationship than it does on winning the specific argument.

Fair Fighting Ground Rules

1. Don’t try to talk or problem solve when you’re angry.

2. Both must agree and be ready to talk. (You can’t force someone to talk just because you want to.)

3. Identify and describe the problem in writing.

4. No personal attacks or Dirty Tactics (Duh)

5. Be specific and current (Forget generalizations or problems from the past)

6. Use I-Statements: (Express What you see, how you feel and what you want) and Take turns speaking ( It’s a dialog not a lecture)

7. Take a break if things get too heated or out of hand. (You don’t have to solve everything in one shot.)

The key to negotiating conflicts reasonably and fairly is keeping perspective, i.e. couples must commit to always valuing their relationship more than any one single disagreement. Wringing the emotion out of the conflict before trying to negotiate will increase mutual respect and reduce the using unfair or manipulative tactics. If nothing seems to work, there is always professional help.