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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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