I still remember a long-ago ex who just loved to fight. Whatever I did, he'd be sure to find something wrong with it, and would just start screaming at me, paying no attention to anything I tried to say. And it wasn't just me; pretty much anyone who differed in opinion or did him wrong was in for the confrontation of their life.
I, on the other hand, have always been the type to avoid conflict by any means necessary--preferring to live completely unhappily rather than confront someone and risk a fight.
I realize now that neither of our fighting styles were very productive in the long run and it's not surprising that the relationship didn't last. Maybe if we'd figured out a way to fight fair--we both could've gotten what we wanted without ending up hurt (or hurting the other person) in the process.
But that can be easier said than done--especially in the heat of the argument. So how do you go about fighting fair? We asked licensed clinical psychologist and relationship coach Mark Sharp of the Aiki Relationship Institute for his suggestions.
"Many people refer to fighting fair with the idea of not 'hitting below the belt'," he says. "That really means that it is fighting without doing things specifically to hurt the other person rather than move the fight forward."
But Mark says, in reality, there's a little more to it than that. "In addition to not doing things to specifically hurt the person you are fighting with (emotionally or physically) fighting fair means being truly open to understanding the position, ideas, and experience of the person you are fighting with," he insists.
One thing to keep in mind? You and your partner may have different fighting techniques--which could be getting in the way of fighting fair. Mark breaks them down:
- The Distracter: This is a person who will bring up topics that don't relate to what the fight is about or are only marginally related. They may also choose to argue about nitty gritty details while ignoring the real reason the fight is taking place.
- The Blowhard: This person talks loudly and a lot, often interrupting the person they are fighting with and seeming to pay no attention whatsoever to what the other person is saying. They seem to work on the idea that the person who talks the loudest and who talks last wins. I have at times referred to this as the "Jerry Springer Syndrome."
- The Pacifier: This person tends to not fight but rather agree (verbally) with the other person is saying, though they have no intention whatsoever with following through with what they are saying.
But while you may be drawn to a specific fighting style, you don't have to let it rule your arguments.
"It may be difficult, but anyone can change their behavior if they are serious about it, are honest with themselves, and put forth some serious effort," says Mark.
Here are Mark's Six Rules for Fighting Fair.
- Stay on one topic and don't get distracted.
- No name calling or derogatory, sarcastic, snide etc. statements.
- Try to understand the other person's position. And try to actively communicate to them that you understand it. In intimate relationships, it is particularly important to understand the emotional impact of the situation on the other person.
- If you are confused or don't understand something, ask for clarification.
- Talk more about your feelings and opinions and why they are important to you and less (perhaps not at all) about why the other person's are wrong.
- Understand that resolution doesn't mean you have to agree with each other, just find a way to move forward.
Do you ever find yourself saying things you wish you hadn't? How do you best resolve fights in your relationship?