12 Fair Fighting Rules for Couples
1. DON’T use physical violence or threats. It’s impossible to be honest and clear when you’re not feeling safe.
2. DON’T mind-read or psycho-analyze. Your partner, not you, should be the one to say what he or she is thinking and feeling.
3. DON’T throw in the kitchen sink. Resentments about unfinished fights from the past will cloud the issue and escalate anger. Solve one problem at a time.
4. DON’T use shouting, name-calling, sarcasm, insults, or accusations. In addition to hurting your partner’s feelings, these behaviors insure that you WON’T be heard or taken seriously.
In healthy relationships, conflict is normal. Sometimes your needs clash with your partners' needs. Other times, you might misunderstand each other or trigger strong emotions from the past. Fighting, when it's done in in a respectful, mindful way, can actually make your relationship stronger. Here are some guidelines to help you distinguish unfair, destructive fighting, from the kind of fighting that can help you solve problems, work out compromises, and feel closer.
7. DO tell your partner what you would like to happen, and be specific. Describe the behavior you would like your partner to do. "You never help around the house," will be far less effective than, "I’d like it if you’d wash the dishes at least 2 nights a week."
8. DO use "I" statements. Starting a sentence with the word "you" can put anyone on the defensive, especially someone who’s already mad at you. The word "I" signals that you’re simply going to say your own point of view.
9. DO use feeling statements. "I think" and "I want" are okay, too, but they express opinions and invite disagreement. You are the absolute authority on your own emotions, so no one can argue with "I feel." (Hint: Don’t say "I feel" when you really mean "I think," as in "I feel you’re being unreasonable.")
10. DO use active listening techniques. Make eye contact. Listen carefully without interrupting or talking over your partner. Ask questions to clarify (not challenge) what you are hearing. Then repeat it or paraphrase it, to show you understand, whether or not you agree.
11. DO take time-outs to calm down, if either person’s anger seems to be escalating. Agree ahead of time that time-outs will be, say, 20 minutes long, and be sure there’s a place to go to be apart for that long. If you do take a time-out, tell your partner that’s what you’re doing, before you walk away.
12. DO be willing to apologize, compromise, or agree to disagree, whenever it’s appropriate to do so.
5. DO identify the problem. Ask yourself exactly what’s upsetting you. Is it really that small, annoying thing that just happened? Is it really about your partner at all? Think before you talk.
6. DO choose a quiet, relaxed time and place to have your discussion, if you can. When you’re upset, most problems seem more urgent than they really are.