My wife and I are born fighters. I am sure that part of the reason is that I am a son of Adam and she is a daughter of Eve. It could also be that we are stubborn and we do not like to lose. These traits are a bad recipe for disagreements in relationships.
Christine and I work with lots of engaged couples and a fair number of married couples. We find during our discussions that a common theme of challenges within their relationship with each other is that they are terrible at communication. Now, Christine and I are not experts but after 20 years we have developed our own rules for fighting fair. Yes, I said fight. Call it what you want: disagreement, spat, lovers quarrel, etc. Yeah, right. We fight. Granted, we neither throw things (and never have) nor do we get into screaming matches (voices have been raised) but we have been known to have knock-down, drag-out fights. Here is what we have learned:
- Do not be afraid of conflict. It is natural. Let’s be honest, taking two people from vastly different backgrounds, experiences and wounds and then putting them together in a relationship where they share pretty much everything – there are going to be differences and disagreements. Remember that the goal of a fight is mutual resolution and not imperial conquering or pressing one into service as if they are a prisoner of war.
- Address the issue not the person. Your disagreement is with the issue at hand, not the person per se. Stick to the issue and do not get into name calling since that tactic only escalates a fight. Remember that a habit or decision is not the person but an expression – thus, habits may change.
- Be specific. When an argument takes place always avoid generalities by using specific and discrete examples. If you cannot find a specific example, keep your mouth shut. Additionally, stick to the present moment. It is a uniquely human attribute to pull all the hurts of the past and perceived injuries of the future into the moment. Agree to discuss the current issue. Avoid the words, “always” and “never” since they are rarely ever true and will intentionally inflame a situation. If you have chosen not to say anything about past issues well, live and learn. It is unfair to hoard and store hurts only to throw them at your spouse or significant other when you feel like it. Remember that it is always easier to deal with injury and challenges in the moment – or at least close to it than to let it fester and potentially damage a relationship through bitterness and mistrust.
- Ask questions, don’t fortify your position. It is easy to get defensive about an issue or a hurt. Most of the time, arguments arise due to miscommunication and/or a lack of information. By asking questions, you can learn more about the situation and reconsider what you said, how you said it and appreciate how your spouse or significant other responded. Remember that your spouse or significant other is not mind readers. If you do not share, how are they supposed to know?
- Ask for forgiveness, do not apologize. An apology is a hit-and-run tactic. Asking for forgiveness must always allow for the possibility of rejection. The asking and acceptance of forgiveness requires an active choice on the part of both parties which is always a step towards love and healing. Remember that almost every disagreement and most hurts can be healed. It does require humility, seeing the situation from another’s perspective and choosing to love through sacrifice.
- Do not make rash decisions. The heat of the moment is the worst time to make decisions – especially if they are life changing. Fights and disagreements should never be solved via wielding the sword of break-ups or divorce. Remember that choosing to talk through a hurt or disagreement is a choice for the relationship. In a world that is self-serving and seeks the easy way out, put the effort in and prove to the enemy of the world who loves division that love and reconciliation are stronger.
- Avoid late night discussions. Seriously, you are tired and it is late. Rarely do constructive discussions transpire. And, even if they did, what will you remember in the morning. I am not a fan of going to bed angry but is a late night discussions tend to enflame not promote reconciliation. Remember to make decisions what topics are off limits after a certain time i.e. finances after 9pm in our house¸ because they will typically start a fight.
- Stop lying to one another. If you are asked what is wrong, do not lie either by commission or omission. If you choose to lie, do not be surprised if your spouse or significant other refuses to discuss it later. Remember that if you do not want to talk about it in the moment, verbalize that you need some time to process and cool down. Then, choose a time to discuss it and thank your companion for their patience.
- Practice self-sacrifice. You are not your relationship. It takes two. This means that each one of you will need to change habits, embrace friends and exercise patience that you would not normally do. You are in a relationship and you are always looking to support and serve the other. Remember that you two are never going to agree on everything and that is okay. If his friends drive you nuts, get used to it. If you think her friends are space cadets, practice space walking. Relationships do not mean you get to dictate the others habits and friends. As long as they are healthy and spur towards holiness – learn to grow in grace while smiling.
- Learn to laugh and not take yourself to seriously. My wife and I, if the conversation is getting to heated or long, try to make the other person laugh. Those who are young tend not to be able to do this since they think a too highly of their opinions and self. Remember that Scripture says that humor is good medicine. Break-ups and divorce always have a grave element of arrogance and pride meaning that we think more of ourselves than our spouse or significant other.
There are plenty of other rules but this is a good start. One other thought in this age of social media and electronic communication: Texting and emails are not communication. They are short hand for what you would say in person. They have their place in keeping each other informed but make no mistake, even this blog is a shadow of what I would like to say but I have neither the space nor your attention span to accomplish my task.
So, never text or write about your spouse or companion what you are unwilling for them to read. Furthermore, if you try to reconcile or ask forgiveness over a text or email, well then you deserve what is coming to you. Act like an adult and have your discussions face-to-face. Remember that when communicating 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.
Try not to fight but if you do, fight fair and with heartfelt humility.