Fights can occur in relationships regardless of the quality of the communication and the best intentions of the partners. Sometimes they are over a big issue, but often they begin over a small infraction and then escalate into a major fight over something totally unrelated to the original issue. However, they don't have to follow that pattern. By establishing and following a few simple rules, most issues can be resolved before they become damaging to the relationship.
In my Relationship Coaching sessions, I encourage my clients to adopt these rules for fair fighting:
1. Respect Your Partner - Your partner is an adult, even if they sometimes behave childishly. Respect their opinions and avoid condescension.
2. Stick To the Issue - Avoid escalating the fight by bringing up the past or expanding the topic. Keep it simple and focused on a single issue.
3. Avoid Ultimatums - Don't force your partner into a corner by demanding they do something. It's not constructive and may force them to make a choice neither of you want.
4. Choose Your Words Carefully - Before making a statement, ask yourself three questions: 1. is it true? 2. Is it kind? 3. Is it necessary? If the answer to any of these questions is no, don't say it.
5. Say What You Really Mean - In the heat of an argument, it's easy to say something that is hurtful or inaccurate. Be clear, be kind and think before you speak. You are working toward a solution, not to make the problem worse.
6. If One Loses, Both Lose - It's not about winning, it's about finding solutions that satisfy both partners. If someone wins, the relationship suffers.
7. Avoid Accusations and Attacks - "You" statements are perceived as attacks, causing your partner to get defensive. Attacks don't lead to solutions.
8. Own Your Own Feelings - Use "I" statements and avoid blaming your feelings on your partner.
9. Always Check Your Understanding - Don't assume you know what your partner is saying or how they are feeling. Ask questions to make sure what you're hearing is what they're saying.
10. State Wishes and Wants Clearly and Directly - Your partner can't read your mind. If they don't know what you want, they can't give it to you.
11. Don't Use Sex as a Tool - Avoid using sex to avoid an issue or withholding sex as a threat or means of manipulation.
12. Don't Fight Dirty - Don't be physically, emotionally or verbally abusive. Avoid "pressing buttons" that you know hurt your partner. You probably know exactly how to hurt your partner, but respect them enough not to.
13. Avoid the Silent Treatment - The silent treatment is a form of psychological torture. It doesn't resolve anything and only prolongs the pain for both of you.
14. Call "Time-Outs" and "Fouls" - Create a way to take a short break to cool down if things get too heated, but agree on a specific time to come back to the issue. Set up a way to call "foul" if someone starts to fight dirty or breaks the fair fighting rules.
15. Go for Closure - You may not be able to completely resolve and issue right away, but you should be able to come to an acceptable level of understanding and acceptance. Don't leave unsettled arguments hanging to create resentments and frustration.
The first step in Relationship Coaching is to reduce the tension and build skills to communicate effectively. Fighting fairly helps a couple focus on a single specific issue so that they can constructively work together to find a solution.