How to Fight Fair with Your Spouse
Conflict is possible whenever two people come together – especially if they have different backgrounds, opinions, and personalities.
Unfortunately for many married couples, fighting means that someone has to win and someone has to lose. In that effort to win, one spouse might say something they can never take back. They might close down communication, stubbornly standing their ground while withholding love. These aren’t fair fighting rules! And what happens if winning the battle means losing something more important – the integrity of your relationship?
Why disagreements in relationships are inevitable
Every person handles conflict in their own way. Some hate it so much that they back down to keep the peace. Others move quickly into fight-or-flight mode, losing all emotional control. No matter how compatible a couple is, disagreement is inevitable. It’s how you handle those disagreements that matters.
Happy marriages aren’t the ones that have no conflict. They’re the ones where the couple has learned to communicate respectfully and fight fair.
Ground rules for fighting fair
Know how to calm down
Anger can spiral out of control, taking on a life of its own. When you feel yourself losing control, force yourself to pause and take a deep breath. It’ll help your body calm down, which in turn helps your emotions stabilize. If deep breathing isn’t enough, take a time-out from the issue at hand. Address it later, when you’re feeling more rational and compassionate.
When calm, it’s much easier to think clearly and communicate in a non-confrontational way.
Clarify the problem with yourself first
People sometimes react to things without understanding the real reason behind their reaction. Let’s say your spouse fails to take out the trash … again. You fall into a cascade of angry feelings. But is the forgotten garbage the real reason for your anger? Or did it trigger ongoing feelings of being unappreciated or unfairly burdened by household responsibilities? Maybe the two of you need to spend some time discussing whether the current division of labor works for you at home.
Getting a handle on the real issue allows us to understand the problem so we can work on effective conflict resolution.
Determine your goal
What is your goal as you interact (“fight”) with your partner? Is it a reasonable goal? For example, are you looking for a solution to a problem? If so, what would that solution look like to you? Are there compromises you could agree to? Or, are you just looking to vent your frustrations?
Angry venting at your spouse might seem easy – the words just tumble out – but it can backfire and get you in trouble. Finding a solution is harder; it requires mutual respect and commitment to a resolution. That’s hard to achieve when either of you are angry or defensive.
Set aside time to talk
If there’s an important issue at hand, give it the time and space it deserves. To “fight fair,” you need to carefully listen to each other without distractions.
Setting up ground rules for your discussion can help keep the energy positive. It can help you veer away from accusations and anger. If the conversation takes an unproductive turn, agree to table the discussion for a time when you are both feeling positive and rational.
It can be hard to communicate about an emotional issue. But when you approach it with a clear head in a non-confrontational way, it’s far easier to reach a resolution. Keep accusatory “you” statements to a minimum. Frame the issue with “I feel” statements instead; it comes across as far less combative and won’t invite defensive responses.
Communication is a two-way street. You want your spouse to listen to you, and you owe them the same courtesy. Listening to their side of the story and considering their point of view may give you a new understanding of the situation. At the very least, it allows you to consider their viewpoint, whether you understand or agree with it or not.
Keep it real. When feelings are intense, it’s easy to overreact and exaggerate. Let go of the need to one-up your spouse. Sticking to the facts makes finding a solution more manageable.
Avoid pot shots
Everyone has vulnerabilities. When one partner leverages those vulnerabilities against the other, it can hurt or damage the relationship. Name-calling and below-the-belt comments can eat away at trust and a person’s ability to share themselves for fear of having their truths used against them.
Use repairing comments
Not everything you say will come out the way you meant it to. “I’m sorry” goes a long way. If you don’t feel understood, ask for a do-over by saying, “Let me try again.” At the very least, you can acknowledge when you aren’t feeling understood and seek a way to rephrase it to provide clarity.
Get professional support
A happy marriage is never conflict-free, and some issues can derail even the best relationships. Professional help is an excellent resource for many couples grappling with marital bumps. For example, couples counseling can give you both valuable communication tools and insights into the relationship. Divorce therapy can help you explore your conflicts deeply to determine whether divorce is the right option.
At Hello Divorce, we offer resources that support and guide people navigating marriage conflict, divorce, and post-divorce life. If you need help, we are here. Call us to schedule a free 15-minute phone call.