Fighting. We all do it in relationships. As a matter of fact, I’m of the opinion that if you never fight, it’s actually an indicator that there’s something off-balance. No one agrees on every single thing, after all, and a lack of disagreements – especially about the big stuff – can indicate that you or your spouse might be confrontationally-avoiding, passive and/or not really participating fully in the relationship.
So, how do we fight, get our issues heard and processed, listen to the other person’s, and avoid those chilling silent periods (or screaming matches) than can often come about? Rules. Commandments, if you will. All equally-important, they are:
Thou shall respect the other person’s right to a different opinion
Everyone’s experience and perception is different. This is how we come to have differing ideals, philosophies and habits. For instance, if your spouse’s childhood was quite attachment-based and yours was not, it’s probably a given that they would assume your children need close, intimate attention and you may think they need more room to breathe. Even if you don’t agree, it doesn’t always (or often) mean that the other person is wrong.
Thou shall treat the other in any manner of which ye would like to be treated
The Golden Rule. You teach it to your kids, and you likely grew up hearing about it, too. Treat others the way you want to be treated – yes, even in an argument – because it both sets and example, and it can rub off, unconsciously.
Thou shall not argue in circles
You’ve been arguing for some time, now, and you keep coming back to the same issue(s). If you can’t find a solution, or you find yourself party to a fight that’s simply for the sake of fighting, call it out and decide whether you’re going to continue.
Thou shall not raise thy voice above a level thy children would accept
If your children would be stressed out and concerned for the safety of their parents’ relationship, you’re going too strong. Yes, you don’t want to argue in front of them for the most part – especially if it’s something about them – but you want to use this measure to keep your temper in check. Only the marriage-breakers ever really seem to merit outright screaming. And even then… is it worth it?
Thou shall make up
Yes, always. Don’t sweep things away; find closure. Not necessarily in the middle of a fight – though that can often help move things along during a roadblock and remind you of how much you do like this person you’re warring with. And you know what they say about make-up sex, right?
Thou shall remove thyself from the physical
First off, an argument should never escalate into physical abuse or the threat of it. If it does, walk away. If the fight’s not getting anything resolved and you can’t foresee it doing so, walk away. Remove yourself from the environment, period, if nothing good will come from being in it.
Thou shall remove thyself from the metaphorical
Ask yourself, if your spouse was stating this reasoning and you weren’t involved – say, they were speaking about your mother-in-law (the one who always insults your cooking) – would you react this same way? Try mentally putting yourself in your spouse’s place, and remove yourself from the situation. It makes it easier to empathize, and even listen to things you’d otherwise miss out on while you focus on your own arguments.
Thou shall not interrupt
You’re talking to your children about something they did that you didn’t appreciate, or you’re discussing something important with a co-worker about company policies, and the other person interrupts you. How does it effect you? You feel insulted, disrespected, unimportant, like you need to repeat yourself and attacked, even. So do other people when you interrupt them. Plus, as we teach our kids: it’s just plain rude to interrupt when someone is speaking.
Thou shall reiterate
To feel heard, it often helps us if the other person repeats back what we’re laying out. Obviously, quoting directly can not go very well in a tense environment – it can make the other person feel belittled and patronized – but a simple sentence like, “I think I understand that you’re feeling …” can make a world of different in how they, in turn, listen to your messages.
Thou shall not use enduring language
‘Always’, ‘never’, ‘completely’ and ‘hate’ are words that breathe toxicity. They also make people feel as if they have no merit to you. Think about it: if your spouse told you that they hated that you never want to make love, how would it effect you? You’d likely feel pressured, and as if the times that you have made love were of little importance. You might even translate that sentence into your spouse hating you, or some other self-esteem degrading thought.
What else do you do, to keep the arguments civil and productive, and what mistakes do you often find yourself making? My frequent crime has been not keeping my temper in check and just walking away when the fight escalated too far.