If you’ve been married for even five minutes, you have likely had conflict at one point or another in your relationship. Have you had disagreements turned arguments that have been left unresolved and left both parties hurt? Perhaps you and your spouse don’t argue, but instead, avoid confrontation altogether. I’m sharing these 8 rules for Fair Fighting with Your Spouse that my husband and I use. Though we are “avoiders”, we have learned that confrontation is not only inevitable, but can also be healthy and lead to healing and unity.
Only weeks before our wedding, my husband and I attended a mandatory pre-marriage retreat. At the time, we made fun of the experience itself and mutually did not want to be there. We did not realize that weekend that we were learning simple, common sense wisdom that we have used in our marriage over the past eight years.
I still believe that this gift of time given to each other other laid the foundation for our marriage, and has arguably saved us from folding and parting ways. (See what I did there?). We had some big arguments that weekend as we were confronted with some of our deep, underlying issues. Instead of burying hostile feelings toward each other and feeding resentment, we had to put a big, old spotlight on our crap and figure it out together.
One of the best take-aways of the retreat was their list of guidelines for managing conflict. These guidelines are what kept our conversations on track and put us on the path to resolution. We no longer have the print-out list, but my husband and I still refer to these regularly.
1. Stay as objective as possible in the midst of emotion.
Arguments are emotional. To avoid saying things you don’t mean, try to slow down and be intentional with your words and stick to the point. You know your spouse better than anyone else – the good and the bad. To use their vulnerabilities against them in a fight is unfair and cruel. Don’t pick your spouse apart or prey on their weaknesses. You cannot take it back.
2. The more heated an argument gets, the more important it is to keep your cool.
Much like #1, this boils down to self control. This isn’t a competition for who can be more hysterical, out of control, or loud. The times I have exploded on my husband and stormed out of a room have not been productive. Marriage isn’t a place for a “mic drop” and dramatic exits.
Important note — If there is a threat of physical violence or harm, get out and get help. This list is no substitute for professional help if abuse is present in your home.
3. Start with your feelings, not their faults.
Use “I feel” messages. “I feel (a feeling), when you (an action). I want (a solution).”
My husband Tony and I MOCKED this one for a long time. I would joke, “I feel grossed out when you fart next to me. I want you to leave the room or give me a heads up instead of giggling and waiting for me to smell your stink.”
Like many other things I started saying “ironically”, this one has stuck.
This is helpful because it requires me to really pause and think about my words. When my husband starts a sentence with how he feels, I am open to his message instead of defensive.
4. Avoid blanket statements in an argument by avoiding these two words.
This is the hardest one for my dramatic self. “Never” and “always” are off limits. These are untrue and unfair to use in an argument. Before we implemented these guidelines for ourselves, I usually started my arguments with “You never….” or “You always…”.
No one “never” or “always” does anything. Exaggerations are not true or helpful. Drop them from your vocabulary in an argument.
5. This isn’t a game or battle. No score keeping.
I am not owed a night out because my husband worked late. He doesn’t deserve to spend money on something expensive because I just made a big purchase. We do not keep score of who just bought or did something, therefore the other person is entitled to something to even a score. We make all our financial decisions together and our money is our money. (More on this to follow in another post).
Just like we don’t keep score when it comes to time or money, we don’t treat our love or marriage as transactional. We do not treat sex as a trade or a way to get something we want from the other person. We love each other freely and openly. We are not prostitutes. Do not use sex or love to manipulate your spouse into “getting your way”.
6. Don’t joke about things that aren’t funny.
While it’s important to keep a sense of humor while arguing, we don’t threaten or even joke about divorce, withdrawing love or withdrawing sex. We don’t call each other pet names or terms of endearment sarcastically. For example: “Oh, now I understand! Thank you for mansplaining that to me, dear!” Sarcastic or passive aggressive undertones have the power to tear down instead of building up.
7. Listen before you speak.
Give your spouse time to explain their feelings without interrupting. Do not tell them their feelings are “wrong” (or bad, or dumb, or ridiculous….), especially if your spouse is starting their message with “I feel….” (#3). Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. You do not want to be told how you feel or should feel, neither does your spouse. Respect them enough to listen. To take this a step further, repeat back what you heard to your spouse to confirm and clarify their message. You cannot control what they say or do, but someone who feels valued is more likely to listen when it’s your turn to speak.
8. Apologize, AND ask for forgiveness.
Do you know what is even more meaningful than “I’m sorry”? When I not only apologize, but ask for forgiveness. This takes serious strength, my friends. Try being not truly sorry for something while asking for forgiveness. It’s impossible for me, and oh so humbling.
From time to time my husband will pause and remind me that we are on the same team. This reminder is helpful. We take a second to remember that we want the same things at the end of the day (peace, happy and healthy kids, a better savings plan, etc), even if how we are going about it is different. It changes the conversation completely.
This list is applicable to handling conflict in most relationships and has one underlying theme – respect. My husband summed it up best —
“The long term respect of your partner or marriage is always worth more than winning the next argument.”
I challenge you to choose one or two that are the hardest for you to follow and guess which one(s) is the most challenging for your spouse. If this is something you would like to implement in your own relationship, share this list with him (or her) and discuss it together.
I want to hear from you!
Do you have “guidelines” for managing conflict with your spouse?
Which guideline on this list is the hardest for you to follow when arguing?
Do you disagree with any of them?
What “sage marriage advice” have you received that is actually not helpful?
Comment below – I would love to hear your thoughts.