I’m very lucky my partner grew up in a house with a mother who studied a psych degree and another in social work; it sounds like she was *really* good at conflict resolution, and had plenty of practice with her three kids. One thing that made her so amazing was there was always a guide posted on the fridge with some “Rules for Fair Fighting“, so whenever someone broke a rule, there was immediate reflection and acknowledgment of what went wrong. I always thought this was a pretty cool thing to have grown up with, and I wish more people did it in their homes, but I’m making up for it now!
There’s nothing wrong with arguing. Arguing is good! It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll 100% agree with your partner/friend/relative all of the time and it certainly doesn’t mean that your relationship is bad if you have a disagreement. It is possible to argue or fight in a fair and compassionate manner, and this is what these “Rules for Fair Fighting” are about.
Now, I’m also going to intersperse these with pictures of baby animals because this is some heavy stuff and we all need a break from time to time.
10 Rules for Fair Fighting
Nothing productive happens when you’re full of anger. It’s way more difficult to get your point across, or even remember what your point is, if all you’re saying is, “GOD I just hate your STUPID FACE.”
Focus on the issue, not the person
The thing about having arguments with people is that they’re *people*, and respond like people even if it doesn’t seem rational or logical. When you start throwing around “you did this” and attacking the person instead of the issue you’re trying to resolve, walls are built and they’ll go on the defensive.
Avoid exaggerating or generalising
Words like “never”, “always” are a pretty big signal that you’re using some hyperbole in an argument, or unintentionally inflating the issue. When something comes up, it’s easy to immediately recall all the other times it’s happened until it feels SO HUGE that you can’t remember anything else ever, but “always” is probably inaccurate. Perspective is important!
Keep it to the issue at hand and be careful of piling on old or irrelevant complaints. It may be tempting because once you’re in that zone of airing out emotions you start to remember ALL THESE OTHER THINGS that annoy you, like you’ll start talking about how you feel your partner doesn’t take your feelings seriously and then you remember THEY’RE ALSO REALLY RUBBISH AT ANSWERING THEIR PHONE, but it can wait. The more issues you start piling into an argument, the less likely any of them are going to get resolved.
Now, it’s not entirely your fault — humans are naturally pretty rubbish at listening because we can hear and process what someone else is saying so much faster than they can speak. Watch out for any tendencies to fill in these gaps with: planning your next response or predicting what they’re going to say (even if you’re right, just let them say it) but do feel free to clarify what they’ve said to make sure you’re on the same page, aka Reflective Listening.
This goes back to “don’t overgeneralise”, but it’s important to talk about specific incidents, specific feelings, because it’s really difficult to resolve a vague or unidentifiable issue. So before you enter a discussion, think about what exactly is making you feel bad or hurt so you have something more to offer than, “Idk, I just feel bad.”
Arguments don’t get resolved if you’re calling your partner an idiot/jerk/dickhole. Unless those are some agreed pet names you have for each other, in which case… this is beyond my experience.
Don’t assume you’re right or demand to win
Think of this more as a problem solving exercise where the goal is to be a kinder and more compassionate person, rather than aiming to show the other person how wrong they are. Once you surrender this eagerness to be right, it’s much easier to meet your partner in the middle, and when necessary, apologise.
Give everyone a chance to change their minds
Don’t be tempted to yell “A-HA” when someone sees your point of view and agrees with what you’ve said. At the same time, don’t feel like you’re a weaker person for changing your mind and instead stupidly stick to your guns out of stubbornness. Arguments are collaborative!
If you need to cool off, take a break
It’s easy to get caught up inside your emotions and lose perspective, especially if you’re new to fair fighting, relationships or even talking about how you feel. If you’ve been going back-and-forth for a while and it’s feeling overwhelming, it’s perfectly okay to agree upon a break. If you want to come back to the issue, make sure everyone knows that. Basically, look after yourself; physically, mentally and emotionally.
Now, at any point during the big and potentially exhausting process of fairly fighting or arguing (don’t worry, it gets easier with practice) you may feel like it’s about time for an apology:
Remember the Anatomy of an Apology
So an apology has three main parts:
- The words “I’m sorry”. (You’d be surprised how many people forget this bit…)
- Some acknowledgment of the shitty or misguided thing you did.
- An assurance that it won’t happen again (or at least you’ll try not to.)
Things that aren’t quite apologies even though they look kind of similar: talking about how bad or guilty you feel. Sure, it’s important to share how everyone feels, but rather than a crucial organ of an apology, it’s more like a spleen or something; don’t get “I feel really bad” mixed up with “I’m sorry”. Also, “Ugh GOD okay I’m sorry”: if your words are soaked in bitterness or passive-aggression, it’s probably not an apology.
This “Rules for Fair Fighting” list isn’t exhaustive, there are loads more basics like “No physical violence”, but it’s a good start if you’re new to this kind of communicating or need a refresher!
Keep in mind (as always) these are just from my personal experience and limited academic psychology background; I’m not a professional. Just someone who has done the relationship thing a few times and keen to share what I’ve learnt.