I grew up in a household with parents who didn’t fight fair. My parents fought bitterly, including, until I was about nine or so,
physically. Even after the hitting stopped, the harsh words, nasty barbs and snide remarks remained. My mother couldn’t bear to say anything nice about my father up until the time of her death, even though he died 17 years before she did.
As a result, I never learned how to fight fair. My fights with my ex-husband were as rancorous as my parents’ fights had been. My daughter would cry when my ex and I would start in on each other. My son would hide behind the sofa until it was all over.
They both still remember those fights. Not long ago, my son said to me, “When you and Daddy were together, you two would fight and fight and fight.” He was only two-and-a-half when we separated.
Fighting fair is something I’ve had to learn in my current relationship. It didn’t come naturally. The first time I became angry with my partner, I did what I was accustomed to doing: I said something rude. I can’t remember what it was, but it was full of sarcasm and condescension.
And he was having none of it.
Instead, he told me his rules of engagement. They were:
1. We can disagree, but we will talk to each other with respect.
2.No sarcasm. State how you feel plainly, without the snide asides
3. No yelling.
4. No foul language.
5. No hitting or throwing things.
6. No name-calling.
7. No silent treatment – if something’s bothering you, let’s talk it out.
8. No low blows – no words you say just to hurt the other person’s feelings.
There may have been more, but you get the point.
And so far, it has worked.
Conflict isn’t pleasant. Most people try to avoid it, often with disastrous results. We create our own stories about the other person’s motives, what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling, and we act on what we believe to be true, instead of finding out what’s really true. Efforts to avoid conflict usually result in worse arguments than the one you would have had if you had just confronted the issues other head-on.
A wise friend said recently that learning how to fight fair is one of the keys to relationship success. Based on my own experience, I think he’s right.
It’s still not easy to always follow the rules of fight club. I’m a sarcastic person by nature, and the snark slips out. He’s no saint.
He’s spoken to me with a sharp tone here and there. But we generally manage to catch ourselves – or each other – before it gets out of hand.
What are your rules of engagement with your partner? Do you avoid fighting? What do you do to ensure your fights are fair?