There is conflict, unavoidable conflict in most if not all of our personal relationships. When the time comes to have a “fight” how do you conduct yourself? Do you fight fair? And what does that even mean?
I was in a relationship with a man who was seen by all our friends and family as near perfect. He was kind, nice, helpful, very service oriented, and generally happy. But when we got into arguments he did not fight fair. When I said, “I don’t like what you just did or said because …” he would never truly admit to doing anything wrong. His comeback was typically this, “I’m sorry you felt that way…” Instead of I’m sorry I did that. It drove me nuts because the problem was always mine. We had conflict in his mind because I felt a certain way, not because he did something hurtful or wrong. He engaged in a kind of gas lighting behavior which is designed as a control mechanism to make the other person feel like they are crazy for being upset.
I was in another relationship with a different man who was seen by all our friends and family as super nice and fun but a little dodgy. No one could quite put a finger on why or how though. He was always supportive, encouraging, and loyal until we got in an argument. When this happened, he chose to use anything and everything he had previously supported and defended, against me. All my vulnerable moments, any time I had miss-stepped, were suddenly evidence against my character. He threw flames in attack mode and was ruthlessly mean. The person he loved was all of sudden a bad mother, girlfriend, listener, Christian, and friend. He instantly put me on the defense to deflect away from the issue at hand. He fought to win by whatever means possible.
I try so hard to be honest in my anger. Say things that are true and try not to be mean. I’m not perfect. But I try very hard to be fair. And this is more specifically what I mean. It all comes down to this. Be honest and have self-control. Let me say that again. BE HONEST and HAVE SELF-CONTROL. That is the crux of it. But here are some finer points:
1. Don’t name call
Especially don’t use words like stupid, *itch, or worse. It’s not helpful and it’s mean-spirited. Instead, describe the behavior you don’t like specifically.
2. Stay focused on solving the problem at hand.
You know the times when you are arguing about laundry on the floor and all of sudden you are fighting over the time he didn’t pay the electric bill. Don’t use past experiences built up over time over and over again that have nothing to do with the current argument.
3. If you ask a question, wait for an answer and then listen to it.
Don’t pepper them with accusation after accusation, venting your anger out on them with no intent to listen to their response. Let them talk too. It isn’t all about you and what you think.
4. If you start losing the logical argument don’t change subjects just to deflect.
There are certain facts that can be determined to be true. If something gets brought up that is a tough one to confront because it puts you in the wrong – OWN IT…instead of turning it back on the other person or being intellectually dishonest about the facts by denying them.
5. Don’t spin the facts.
We see this in the media all the time. You highlight the facts that make your case and downplay the facts that don’t. This is not fair because the truth is the WHOLE truth not just the part of the truth that helps you. Especially in personal relationships spinning facts is destructive and not respectful of the other person’s feelings.
6. Avoid yelling whenever possible.
When the issue is too emotional for you, walk away and revisit the topic at a time when you have had time to breathe and get that control back.
7. It’s not about winning….
There are usually two sides if not more to every argument. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and be okay with that. But you need to get to that place of understanding where you both have clearly presented your perspective. Deal with it instead of letting it fester, but don’t expect to win. Instead have your goal be to clearly communicate and clearly listen.
Currently, I am married and in a relationship with my Harry that is the most mature, and mutually respectful relationship either of us has ever been in. Because of that high respect we have for each other, our arguments are usually incredibly fair.
If we have true conflict over an issue, we can usually talk through it without descending into yelling. We have yelled at each other to be fair. We aren’t perfect. But even when we yell we are fighting fair.
Forgive my digression, but I think this all fits with how people in a civilized society should interact with each other too. Frankly, the bias in the news media, and posts on social media frustrate me sometimes because people are not “fighting fair” and they aren’t listening to each other. There is very little grace and very little listening or intellectual honesty. It’s all about spinning the facts to make your side look “right.”
If you find yourself in a relationship that is in conflict more than at peace, you have to ask yourself why. Is it because you’re not fighting fair? And if you are and it’s still rocky, then maybe you two are not a good match.