Fighting Fairly

When two people get married, they both come into the relationship with different backgrounds and different experiences. At some point they will clash. It is not a matter of if but when. Even the strongest of relationships include arguments. It is only a matter of whether those arguments are marriage building or marriage ending. To avoid escalating into an all-out screaming match and end up saying things that cannot be taken back, there are a few things couples can learn to fight fairly.

1. Often there is neither a right or a wrong in an argument. It is a matter of different perspective and expectations. It is good to ask in such an argument, “What ARE my expectations in this situation? (example: I expect him/her to take the trash out each week). Where did this expectation come from? Why might he/she not be fulfilling this expectation? Have I communicated it clearly? Using subtle hints or sarcastic and nasty comments about it is not going to improve the situation. In fact, in many cases, those ways of communicating your frustration will create more tension and likely result in a screaming match that won’t end well. Keep in mind that your spouse’s expectations may be different. Enter into discussion with the mindset of understanding why your expectations in the situation may be different from the other. In most cases, neither of your expectations is right or wrong, just different. Therefore, talking it through and coming to a compromise will, indeed, strengthen the relationship. If you don’t talk it over, however, it will fester inside and each time that expectation is not met you will resent your spouse.

2. Understand what the argument is really about. When things are getting heated and you are really getting upset with each other, stop for a minute to consider what the other person is saying. Sometimes there is more to it than is on the surface. Allow yourself to say out loud, “What I hear you saying is…..” and see if your partner can do the same. Sometimes when we are so focused on how we were wronged and proving our own point, we forget we are trying to find a resolution to the problem. When your spouse says, “I would like you to stop texting while we are watching television at night,” what he/she may really be saying is, “I value our time together.” Saying, “I don’t want you hanging out with friends of the opposite sex,” can be more, “I’m afraid I don’t deserve you and you might realize that too!” It may not be easy at first, but practice taking some time to really think through what the argument is about. You may need to step away from each other for a little bit and come back to it.

3. Avoid escalators. Escalators are words or phrases that take the argument to another level. They escalate the situation. Two of the biggest are the words “always” and “never.” Rarely is anything “always” true or “never” true. It may be true most of the time, but rarely is it 100 percent of the time. When you tell a spouse they “always” or “never” do something, you are almost certain your fight is going to get much worse. Each person may have different escalators. It is important in a relationship to determine what those escalators might be so you can avoid them in an argument.

The important thing to keep in mind is that your argument should serve a purpose: to bring you closer together. We may not always think about it that way when we are in the heat of the moment, but ultimately we are arguing because this is a person we care enough about to share deep and emotional feelings with and work them out with each other. If you are having difficulty keeping these things in mind as you argue, it is always OK to put it on the back burner for a later time. Take a time out, tell your spouse you love them too much to continue this argument right now and you need some time to think things through before discussing it further. If you are having difficulty getting past the surface to what you are really saying to each other, try to get an unbiased third party to listen, like a pastor, counselor or maybe another couple that can help give perspective based on their own issues. Avoid using friends or relatives as a third party because they will likely not come to the argument unbiased toward one or the other. The most important thing is to learn to love each other more, not less when it is all said and done.