Is it possible to fight fairly?
Fighting fairly sounds like an oxymoron. Isn’t the whole point of fighting to gain a win? Not necessarily. When we are in a relationship—be it romantic, parent and child, friend, work, or otherwise, it is important that we understand it is okay to not agree all of the time.
However, when we do disagree, how should we handle it? There are many unhealthy coping mechanisms that I see people use when they come across a difficult situation such as an argument: avoiding, using unhealthy substances to numb the pain, get into a physical altercation, verbally abuse one another, shame the other person, or the like. These only add to the problems and increase the tension, hurt, and animosity.
With that said, it is normal to have arguments or fights. It is not normal to turn them into a physical altercation. As a psychologist and a certified mediator, I often recommend we follow the “Fair Fighting Rules” to work through disagreements. They stem from the basic understanding that everyone needs to feel safe and loved, maintain their self-esteem, and feel as though they belong. So, if we keep those four truths in our mind when we are discussing an issue with someone, we can be fair in our argument.
The best way to fight fairly and treat others with respect is by following these 9 rules:
1. Before you begin, stop and ask yourself why you feel upset.
What is bothering you? Is it really that your significant other is 10 minutes late? Or did you have a bad day at work? Assess what is making you upset before creating an argument that may not be necessary.
2. Discuss one issue at a time.
Don’t jump from, “I don’t appreciate you buying Starbucks five times this week,” to, “you never help with anything around the house.”
3. No degrading language.
Absolutely no name calling. Do not tell him he is just like his father when he clearly knows you do not like his father. No swearing—it gets us nowhere but angry and defensive.
4. Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
“I feel anxious when you do not answer my calls,” rather than, “you obviously don’t care about me when you don’t answer my calls.”
5. Take turns talking.
Do not interrupt each other. You can go so far as to set a timer, giving each person one minute at a time to say what they need to say.
6. No stonewalling.
This means no giving each other the silent treatment. When we do this, we are just delaying the problem and allowing our anxiety to grow and make it worse. It is ok to take a short time out to calm down, but then figure out another time to finish the discussion.
7. No yelling.
This is ineffective. It puts people on the defense and most often leads to the other person stonewalling. You may believe you won the argument in the moment by yelling, but you never dealt with the problem underneath. Now it can grow and become worse in the next argument.
8. Take a timeout if things get too heated.
Yes, just like we teach children when they get upset or angry, we too should take a timeout to calm down and collect our thoughts so that we can have a rational conversation.
9. Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
Getting into a verbal fight and fighting fairly does not necessarily mean that you are going to agree when it is over. What it means is that you will listen to the person you are arguing with and that person will listen to you. You will try to come up with a solution that you both can live with. This means you both will have to give some and lose some for it to work. Sometimes, if there is no compromise, just listening to each other can help calm the negative feelings.
We, as humans, are meant to have relationships and community. However, sometimes it can require a lot of grit and grace. We do not always get to choose who we spend time with, especially when it comes to co-workers or family. Furthermore, living with someone 24-7 can be daunting at times. I often get asked how to handle oneself when someone else refuses to follow the fair fighting rules. I remind people, it is impossible to fight with a calm and rational person. It is like trying to blow up a popped balloon. It does not work. So, even if the person you are arguing with cannot maintain these rules, you still can. And when you do, you walk away with your integrity and grace, which is the best way to leave an argument.
Despite how it may feel at times, we do have a choice in how we navigate our relationships. We need to address concerns in a healthy and rational way. The fair fighting rules allow us to do just that.
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