How to Fight Fairly
By: Jessica Plancich, MFT

Resolving our differences in a respectful and effective way is something that people across our entire planet have struggled with since the dawn of time. Strategies ranging from non-violent resistance to nuclear warfare have been used for people to express their dislike for something and to get more of what they want. Since carpet bombing your relationship is no way to promote the kind of respect, safety and unity that will encourage your partner to want to remain in your bed, we favor the intervention of a more peaceful kind. I’m here to give you some insight on how to fairly acknowledge your discontent and move forward and get to the fun stuff again.

First of all, allow me to say that disagreements are not something that that are altogether bad. People typically want to put conflict into the “all bad” category and that’s because by and large, people deal with disagreements in such a harmful and ineffective way. Emotions run high when we don’t get what we want and though you may not tantrum on the floor with kicking fists, you very well may throw your own kind of outburst of the adult kind (does the silent treatment, yelling matches and name calling ring any bells?). Overall, these emotion-laden responses are based upon our unresolved hurts from the past that are now being triggered by some current action. Staying in the emotion means that you’ll be saying things and behaving in ways that are an extension of the sadness, pain or fear that you’re experiencing. This is far from rational and logical and this is where it gets super messy.

I invite you to think of your differences in a new way…they can actually assist you both to understand one another and to learn some new tricks. Think about this; life of sameness may be predictable, but it would be terribly boring. You see, we often give an automatic wrong, bad, negative, immature, selfish, etc. judgment when people don’t agree with our ideas or go along with our desires. This is so automatic that it’s like a reflex where your knee jerks up in response to the whack it just encountered. When we can instead shift the perception of differences as different, but not wrong, we can begin by not seeing differences as threatening or “less than”, just simply different. Remember, you and your significant other are on the same team; she/ he is not the enemy or the challenger that you need to defeat. Keep this in mind as you think about positioning yourself in the opposite corner.

For the most part, women do not like to be in conflict and prefer unity and connectivity. When we perceive that there is dissention, we wig out and typically want to smooth things over (or, she’ll unconsciously test the man’s reaction to see if he’s capable of keeping his cool). When men get loud, boisterous and domineering, we don’t feel safe and will either bite back to defend ourselves or shut down entirely for protection. I associate with the former much more than the latter, and I will use verbal judo if I feel that I’m threatened. Either way, this is no way to seek resolve; one party always feels defeated and when the other triumphs, the victory is short sided and doesn’t help establish emotional safety (one of the keys to her feeling safe and wanting to give to you and the relationship).

Then there are those who get off on having conflict. Ah, the chaos of Drama Queens (and Kings). Those who look for opportunities to collide, fight to be right and create quarrels have experienced conditioning earlier in life that lays this foundation. There are many possibilities as to why your partner may respond this way, some include: abusive circumstances, where she/he may have come to associate conflict with love. Another possibility is that your beloved endured painful situations where his/her self-esteem may have become damaged such that she/he now sabotages and undermines loving opportunities, feeling undeserving of this kind of care. This may also manifest as the need to be right to compensate for being made “wrong” or “less than” at some point. Of course, there are endless other reasons why this may be the case, but simply stated, there is most always some previous conditioning that continues to impact them today. Somewhere along the lines, they were made to feel unsafe and your relationship is the arena where it is playing itself out now. Understanding the basis of this response can hopefully help you develop some compassion and then help you generate the patience it will take for your partner to feel safe here and now. Once again, this is the gift that the relationship can offer- a steady, steadfast and sturdy shoulder.

Here are some practical steps to keeping your cool when differences come up and the heat starts to rise:

1. Stay Calm.
- No one is at their best when they are over the top and emotional. When your emotions are high, logic is low and you’re both likely to say and do things that are based upon fear rather than sound judgment. This is an indicator that something is coming up that you don’t want. It means nothing more than this and you have a better chance to work it out (and get more of what you want) if you stay calm and more rational. If you came from a family or had early experiences where conflict was either avoided or highly explosive, you may have a difficult time with this one. Remember that now is not then and you have the opportunity in this moment to do things differently. Women typically do not respond well to attempts to domineer. Do the breathing exercises outlined in the lesson How To Manage Anxiety. There’s also more on the Dealing With Baggage Section for more insight on this. You’ll get better with practice, I promise.
2. Listen.
- When we get defensive and judgmental, we turn up the volume on our mouths (to force others to listen) and turn down the volume on our ears. In this stance, we selectively hear what we want in (so that we can be right in our argument) or tune out the parts that may actually dissolve the argument. Be willing to make your conversation more about seeking resolution and less about defending your stance.
3. Be Open.
- Again, when we’re stuck in our minds, that defensive, stubborn ego that wants to be right, we close ourselves off from other options that may be even better than the one that we’re so fiercely defending. If you put down your defenses, are able to state your response and stance in a direct and respectful way, the two of you can exchange toward solution finding instead of staying in problem-talk. Remember that insisting on “winning” the argument and being right means that your partner iswrong…it’s not a good solution unless both parties feel content about the solution. Be willing to try new options, consider new ideas and solutions that you may not have previously considered. This doesn’t mean that you’ve conceded and are defeated; rather, it means that you’re willing to both share and receive ideas. This flexibility will serve you in many facets of your life. See the article on assertive communication about some specific techniques.
4. Call a Time Out.
- When things look like they’re taking a turn for the worse, you may
opt for taking a time out. To do this effectively, talk in advance about using this as a strategy during a casual conversation about wanting to resolve conflict in a more helpful way. This way, when you’re in the midst of a nasty argument, you’ve already discussed this tactic and won’t have to defend yourself or recieve potential blame that you’re walking away from the argument. The way that this works is that one of you has to recognize that things are getting unproductive (i.e. elevated tone, volume, name calling, threats or provocation) and in a respectful way, explains that you want to take a break from this conversation and return to it when you both are calmer. Additionally, it’s important to note that this is an important discussion that deserves more attention and that you intend to return to it promptly. I know that I’m less likely to let it go in the heat of the moment if I think my guy is simply trying to get out of a tough topic. However, if I know that he intends to return to it (and does so on his own accord), I am ok (afterwards) and grateful for his insight in timing things out when things became unproductive. If your partner doesn’t respect this request, validate his/her concerns and acknowledge the significance of their feelings. Explain that you’ll be ending the conversation if the argumentation persists. Note: it’s the responsibility of the person who’s calling the time out to return to the conversation in a timely manner (hopefully within 24 hours). If things are still heated at this time, it’s important to explain that you intend to continue the discussion, but that you still don’t feel that you’re both in a calm and rational state to have a fruitful conversation. Continue to check in with your mood and attitude (and hers as well) until things are turned down a few notches. Even if things are still a bit tense and tender, it’s important to come back to it because you risk sweeping things under the rug and the time out will no longer become a useful tool for conflict resolution.
5. Look Within
- If you didn’t have anger, resentment, frustration or rage inside of you that needed to be examined and dealt with, it would not be showing up now. It’s easy to want to shatter the mirror that’s reflecting and bringing up uncomfortable images rather than to acknowledge that these sentiments reside within you. The current circumstance is simply another opportunity to recognize its presence and release it. You do this through breathing into it. Calming down, opening up to what you have to learn and gain. An evolved person is willing to take responsibility for his/her self and uses it as a chance to progress.

If the two of you have become particularly skilled at arguing, this will take some consistent effort. I urge you to do some prep work and talk openly about your desire to fight fairly when you’re both calm and in an open state. When you can see that all of your exchanges have the opportunity to bring you closer and you can begin using more effective strategies, you won’t have to have a doomsday response each time you’re in conflict with one another. The fact that the two of you care enough to still duke it out says that there’s passion still between you and that’s a good thing. It’s time to channel it towards productive resolution so that you can continue to grow together and get to the fun part of making up…

Author's Bio: 

Jessica Plancich, MA, MFT is a licensed marriage family therapist with a background in clinical, spiritual and somatic psychology, reiki, yoga and massage therapy. She uses an integrative approach to healing and fuses Eastern and Western wisdom. Additionally, her company, Innerfinity specializes in assisting people to live from the heart and make choices in wellness, relationships and service that are motivated from the sage within. Through her own practices and insights, she hopes to inspire others to activate their intrinsic gifts and highest potential.