5 ways to fight fair in a relationship.
Learning how to fight fair in a relationship is an incredibly important skill for any long-lasting relationship. It’s a common misconception that ‘happy’ couples rarely or never fight. Actually, most healthy and functioning relationships have regular arguments. It’s not the number of fights, but the techniques used when fighting that really matters, says John Gottman, Ph.D. of the Gottman Institute.
The Gottman Institute has nearly 40yrs of research into relationships, marriages, and divorce, and has some fascinating results that every couple could bear to read. So instead of trying to avoid arguments with your partner (let’s face it, it always bottles up for later), try to use these techniques instead:
1) Start it right
Gottman found that the way a conflict discussion begins determines how its going to end 96% of the time. Meaning, don’t start the conversation with yelling, eye rolling, personal attacks. Take your time, start a conversation gently, and be prepared to give the other person time to talk. If it sounds more like a rant/lecture/soliloquy, than it’s not really a healthy discussion.
2) When you get flooded, take a 20min break
You know the feeling when you just HAVE to get your point across? But your heart is racing, your teeth are gritting, and you just want to shake the other person because they are so frustrating and clearly not getting it? That’s because they can’t get it. And neither can you. Your physiological arousal is so high that your brain is focused on preparing the body to run and/or fight. This inhibits your ability to take on new information and use cognitive reasoning. Gottman suggests that when you notice your pulse rising and heart pounding, to agree to take a break to both calm down. Walk away, self soothe, breathe, and then return. The change in conversation and mood can be amazing.
3) But, no running away
There is a major difference between both agreeing to take a break, and one or more parties running away/escaping/storming out. This can feel very abandoning for the person left behind, which can do more damage than good. For some people, especially if they were raised in an environment with violence or regular distressing conflict, running away is their instinctual response to feel safe. In this case, have a discussion as a couple and agree to what will be done if someone needs to leave. Some couples have a time-out sign or a break word as an indicator that they need to leave. But remember that you will come back and finish the conversation when both of them are calm.
4) Don’t get mean
Healthy marriages that last the distance are able to have fights without getting mean. Set some ground rules with your partner (when you are both calm and in a good mood). For example, no name calling (“you idiot!”), no threats (“if you don’t do what I want I will just leave”), no dismissing (“whatever”), and no sarcasm (“oh because you are just SO perfect”).
5) Learn how to repair afterwards
Couples that fight fair, usually know how to repair after a fight or when they have used the above ‘mean’ techniques to hit below the belt. This can happen in one of two ways:
- Repairing during an argument. Some couples are able to diffuse an argument by using humour or affection. This is a sign to the other person that they know things are getting out of hand. This is not the same as dismissing or avoiding a discussion, but rather trying to repair with your partner when things are getting off-track.
- Repairing after an argument has finished. Once the argument has come to an end (regardless of the outcome, remember its not about winning), try to do something that brings you together as a couple. It might be as simple as a hug, going for a walk, or cooking dinner together.
Remember that no-one is perfect, but the ability to have reasonable and fair arguments is an important part of any healthy and long-lasting relationship.
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*Disclaimer: This advice is for the majority of functioning couples without physical or emotional abuse. If you are in a domestically violent relationship, you can seek help by contacting Lifeline or 1800Respect.