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Learning To "Fight Fair" Can Save Your Marriage

All couples argue. Here's how to do it...fairly.

Marriage

I remember a wife once saying to me, "If, while on your honeymoon, you don't have at least one moment when you don't look over at your husband and say to yourself, 'What the hell is wrong with this guy?', you probably aren't taking your marriage very seriously yet." While I do personally know some couples who had wonderful-drama-free honeymoons, I totally get her point. When two people sign up to share a name (sometimes), bed and bills, that can bring about a kind of intimacy that is beautiful—and also quite taxing. After all, you didn't marry your clone; you married someone you love who is their own person. This means, at some point, you and they are not always going to see eye to eye. That's just the way it is.

From money, family and time-management issues to intimacy expectations and learning how to prioritize kids, work, other relationships and rules to help the house to run smoothly, challenges are going to transpire. The butting of the heads is going to come up. The key is learning how to fight fair. And here are a few tips for how to do just that.

Get the Word “Fight” Out of Your Mind

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When it comes to marriage, I've shared before that I'm not a fan of the word "vulnerable" being used between long-term couples. Vulnerable speaks to making oneself susceptible to being attacked. Instead, I prefer the word "dependent" which speaks to relying on someone for support and aid.

OK, so when it comes to spouses disagreeing, I don't care for the word "fight" either. Fighting is battling. Fighting is contending. Fighting is war. And if you go into a disagreement with your partner with a "this is war" mentality, there are bound to be some wounds along the way.

This doesn't mean that I'm someone who thinks that it's unhealthy to not agree and express why. In fact, whenever a couple tells me that they never disagree, I tend to give them major side-eye (even if it's only in my mind) because that usually means someone either isn't being their 100 percent genuine self or they are internalizing their true thoughts and emotions. All I'm saying is "arguing" (to present reasons for or against a thing) is a much healthier and productive word. So, in the quest to always "fight fair" with your spouse, it's a really good idea to try and pull the word "fight" out of it.

Choose a Time When You’re Not Already at Your Limit

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Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who was tired and drained. I chuckled at least three times in our conversation because, while she's normally the half-glass-full kind of person, on this particular day, she was taking no prisoners. Twitter was pissing her off. Emails were pissing her off. Her daughter's dirty room was pissing her off. The dogs were pissing her off. Pretty much everything was pissing her off. So, when her husband called to run something by her real quick, she snapped at him, hung up and then went on to talk about how he was getting on her last nerve too.

"Did you get any rest last night?" I asked. She took a couple of deep breaths and then explained that she tossed and turned all night and had to be up early that next morning. "I'm exhausted and over it," she admitted.

When you know that you are already "spent", that is absolutely the wrong time to have a long conversation with your spouse; especially if you know there's a pretty good chance that there will be some bumps in the road while you're having it. When we're worn out or already stressed to the limit, we're overly sensitive, easily triggered and, let's be honest, oftentimes looking for someone to take our frustrations out on. So, when you know you're not your best self—or even close—wait until you've taken a nap, had a meal, worked out, meditated…done something to take the edge off. That way, you can go into your conversation with a clear mind and your spouse won't automatically feel like they need to go on the defensive…which almost always makes things so much bigger than they actually have to be.

Make Sure That Your Partner Feels Heard and Respected

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Ruth Bell Graham once said that the first duty of love is to listen. While that might seem mad simplistic, there is so much wisdom in that resolve. I mean, I don't know about you, but in the top 10 of times when I feel the most disrespected, it's when someone is 1) cutting me off while I'm talking; 2) misinterpreting what I'm saying and/or 3) not validating my thoughts and feelings simply because they aren't the same as theirs. For whatever the reason, God wired us to not feel truly connected to people unless they are willing to hear us out, process what we say and then give a thoughtful/beneficial response. If you want your conversation with your partner to be a progressive one, make sure that you are intentional about hearing them all the way out, that you honor what they say, and that you require that they do the same thing for you.

Let “Last Word Syndrome” Go

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If you Google "last word syndrome", something that you'll notice a lot of articles agree on is the fact that the person who always feels the need to get the last word in is 1) typically an ego maniac and 2) somehow, in their mind, believing that so long as they get the final statement in, somehow they've won. Listen, if you live long enough on this planet, you realize that winning an argument isn't usually all that it's cracked up to be. No money is earned. Sometimes no resolution has come about. All you get is the bragging rights of trumping someone else and that "win" is really short-lived.

I'll actually raise my hand in this case and confess that I used to be the kind of person who needed to get the last word in most of the time. A part of it was because I didn't feel very heard in my own home while growing up (because the adults made sure they always got the last word...hmm). A part of it is because I like to debate. And, a part of it is because I didn't realize how much I was exhausting others—until they told me.

Look, if you're someone who is addicted to getting the last word in, don't assume that just because your spouse "lets you" that you are a forensics debate team champion or something. 7 times out of 10, they are probably just sick of verbally sparing with you, so they've probably checked out of the conversation. That doesn't mean you've won. That means they're done listening to you. Let that marinate for a moment. What could possibly be good about that?

Take Responsibility Where It Applies to You. Require Accountability Where It Applies to Them.

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While I can't even begin to speak for all married couples, I will say that, when it comes to the ones that I have worked with, one of the biggest breakdowns in communication comes from someone deflecting when they don't want to take responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof) and/or someone not wanting to be held accountable for theirs. I don't know what in the world makes us think that the whole "You do it too" defense in an argument is mature, let alone helpful, but it is indeed what a lot of us do, isn't it? Rather than taking the time to think about what we may have done to cause drama or dissension, we'd prefer the other party to take all of the heat and all of the blame. The problem with that is, rarely is something ever ALL one person's fault or problem. Plus, never wanting to own what is yours prevents real resolution from happening in the long run.

It's grown folks who see where they need to take full responsibility for their words or actions. Equally as grown are the people who are willing to be held accountable wherever accountability applies. And, I think we all can agree that marriage is definitely for grown people. So, make sure you take this point, especially, into your discussions with your partner. Things can get resolved much quicker if/when you do.

Be Solutions-Oriented

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Wanna know the difference between someone who wants to find a solution to an argument or issue vs. someone who simply wants to be right? The solutions-oriented person isn't going to invest a whole lot of time and energy into going back and forth. They are going to want to present their side, hear the other person's side, and find a way to meet in the middle so that they can move on to the next. Meanwhile, the "right guy" will drag disagreements on for hours, days and weeks even, so long as they feel like the end result is them getting their way. Which one sounds like a mature adult? Which one sounds childish AF?

If you want to, not only "fight fair" with your spouse, but also make the "fight" worth your while, it's important to take a solutions-oriented approach. Define the actual problem. Express your feelings while not forgetting the role that logic, facts and truth need to be factored in as well (because our feelings aren't always based on any of these things). Be as clear as you can in stating your case while being open-minded to what your partner has to say. Watch your tone and body language (encourage them to do the same). Avoid saying or doing things that will ultimately only cause more problems. Make peace the ultimate goal. Do this and not only will you slowly yet surely learn how to master fighting fair, but you'll look up and realize that you and yours are fighting a lot less too. And how awesome is that?

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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