Couple’s Fighting Fair Tips
Ideas for communication and de-escalation
Arguing is good. It means you care. You have an opinion. You have ideas and fighting fair tips can help. Famous relationship researcher and therapist, John Gottman agrees. He found that out of his 800 couples studied, the relationships that lasted the longest had arguments and bickering but did not escalate further.
Here are some fighting fair tips to help during a conflict:
- Set the Tone– Mirror the body language and tone of voice you want from your partner. If you don’t want your spouse to yell, refuse to mirror that.
- Time Limits – If you and your partner argue a lot, set limits to avoid any painful escalation. 20 min to 1 hour is recommended.
- Use “White Flags”- White flag means, cease. Go to separate areas in the home and de-escalate (see de-escalation tips below). This is not an excuse to leave the house or storm off somewhere. Use 10-20 minutes to calm and then re-address that day if possible.
- Listen Actively, do not listen to respond- It is better to pause, consume, process and respond. Be cautious of listening for 30 seconds and focusing solely on your rebuttal.
- Use Empathy– ‘Hurt people, hurt people.’ If you are being attacked verbally, it is because your partner feels a lot of pain. Try to place yourself in their situation, speak to their pain, and set limits to how you will be treated.
- 100/100– A healthy relationship isn’t 50/50. Two halves never make a whole in a relationship just like 2 dead car batteries won’t start a car. What I mean is sometimes one or both individuals need to work on themselves in individual counseling. Then they can bring their best self into the partnership.
- Keep the Bubble Sacred–The bubble is your relationship. Be careful who you bring into it. A confidential, private counseling session can be the healthy boundary you set within your relationship. This allows your family, in-laws, friends and even children to maintain their relationships with you; without you pulling them into your partner conflicts.
Accepting arguments, conflict and anger in a relationship can be a good thing. The trick is not to escalate further into name calling, verbal abuse or even physical abuse. Read below some ideas to slow down:
Fighting Fair Tips for Deescalating
- Slow Your Survival – Most research shows you need at least 20 minutes to calm your survival system down. Watch for extremes in taking breaks (e.g. 5 min or 5 hours).
- Melt It! – Hold a piece of ice until it melts. Not only will the cold temperature distract you from your intense feelings, it will also keep you in the here and now.
- Write or Meditate – We often are more honest with ourselves when we write as opposed to when we talk. Use YouTube and find a visual/audio meditation to calm your intense energy.
- Employ your Senses – One of my favorites is to count down: 5 things I see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I smell and 1 thing I taste.
- Diaphragm Breathing – Easier said then done, but if you have agreed to take a break use this time to breathe. It is recommended to breathe out more than you breathe in (e.g. 4-5 inhale vs 5-6 exhale).
Couples Try Fair Fighting (part 2)
The art of facing issues with healthy tools
When you first met your spouse, you may have felt butterflies in your stomach: that intense excitement when you thought about them. These feelings are often accompanied with a strong attraction for this person. Sometimes we won’t sleep as much, we think about them more often than not, and have surges of dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter in our brain).
This is known as infatuation. Infatuation, in a way, blinds us. We zero-in on this person’s most intriguing qualities and dismiss those not in line with our attraction to them. Theorists have hypothesized this feeling is biological, leading us to mate and not become extinct. In fact, if your body stayed in this state long enough, you wouldn’t survive- it’s that intense!
In contrast, when come down from this emotional high, our eyes are opened. We start seeing the socks on the floor and the dirty habits we overlooked 6 months ago. This is the beginning of the ‘long term relationship.’ The honeymoon is now over. The things you once adored may now annoy you. You love your partner but also notice the two totally different individuals both of you are. You both have different life experiences, and it can be difficult to, ‘become one.’
The inevitable will occur; arguing. Confrontation is not to be feared or avoided. It actually means, ‘to face.’ However, we can confront with many different deliveries or approaches. Some can be more problematic than others. I call this ‘Fair Fighting,’. I am not condoning physical fighting but facing issues with healthy tools in our tool boxes.
So How Do We Start Couples Fair Fighting?
- I feel statements– I know, I know. It’s a canned response coming from a therapist- but seriously! When we begin with ‘I feel’ we own the issue. I am literally saying I have the problem, even if my partner is influencing it. When we start off with blaming, we will always be met with defensiveness.
- Own your part– Neither party in a relationship is perfect. The sooner we realize that, the healthier our disagreements will be. If any of your behaviors led to this issue, recognize that and model the apology you might be looking for.
- Discuss 1 issue at a time– If you want a clear-cut solution, you need a clear-cut problem. It is too easy to go down a rabbit hole laundry list of problems and you will end up feeling more confused and helpless by the end of the argument than you felt before it started. So will your partner. Keep it simple. If you have more than 1 issue, then you simply need more than one discussion.
- Avoid blaming and name calling. Period.
May: “Every time YOU leave the dishes out for two days straight it smells gross and YOU make walking in this house a garbage dump. You expect me to wash these, too!”
Jon: “It’s impossible to do anything right in YOUR house! Some people have busy lives too. You missed the fact that someone spent the night mowing the yard and weed whacking till 8pm!”
May: “I feel overwhelmed this week. I have so much on my plate and I came home and there is still so much to do here.”
Jon: “I feel overwhelmed, too. It’s been a busy week. I am sorry I didn’t get to the dishes last night; I was mowing until late and got too tired. Can we finish dishes together this evening?”