Chatter: Rules of Fair Fighting


My husband and I have been very happily married for over eleven years. We make each other laugh, we travel well together, we do sweet things to surprise each other, and are generally on the same page about most things . . . until we’re not. Despite our sometimes too frequent bickering, we have never remained angry at each other for long. In fact, I can’t recall a single time we’ve carried a fight over into the following day. It isn’t because we “never go to bed angry” (which, for us, only results in late night fights) but because we often get to a point where we can either lose hours to a pointless fight, or drop the issue at hand, and move on. (I will never convince Jason to be as overly cautious as I am with the kids, and he will never convince me to like his driving. There are some points that are simply moot.)

Learning to just “drop it” isn’t easy. It often means not getting to defend an important point, or not getting the last word. In these cases I ask myself a very Dr. Phil question: would I rather be right, or would I rather be married? In the end, I always choose to be married.

Here is what this does NOT mean: this does not mean I allow myself to be walked over, or that I don’t put my foot down about certain un-negotiable issues, or that my husband always ends up being right. It simply means that if a disagreement is getting out of hand, we are able to discuss it to a certain point, but then drop it and move on. This simple manoeuvre has saved our marriage many times over.

While on the subject, here are a few other rules we stick to while fighting:

  1. no interrupting or name calling
  2. stick to the issue at hand (no bringing up past issues)
  3. no leaving the house
  4. if necessary, take a time-out to cool down
  5. if things get particularly bad, hold hands
  6. no generalisations (“you always”, “you never”, etc.)
  7. use “I” statements, rather than “you” statements
  8. apologise and admit when you are wrong
  9. learn to drop unimportant issues (go to bed angry, but never wake up angry)
  10. never suggest or threaten divorce

I’m not saying these will be magic bullets for your marriage, but I can tell you that these rules have worked for us. However, if none of the above works for you, then you can take the advice of some friends of ours who were mentors of sorts to us when we were first married. They recommended that if all else fails: get naked. Not only does it lighten the mood, but you can’t take yourself so seriously with your man or lady bits blowing in the wind.

Disclaimer: These rules are only meant to apply to non-violent, healthy relationships where both sides are equally matched. Please speak to a friend or family member if you are dealing with a partner who has anger issues, substance abuse issues, or violent tendencies. 

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  • Reply
    Tetyana Denford
    March 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Ooooh good one. Tom and I are always aligned on big things, but when we argue, it’s about the personal/emotional/marriage/relationship stuff. And never in front of the kids, ever. However, when we *do* argue behind closed doors, it’s volatile. We are complete opposites. I get emotional, I say “you” a lot, I bring up past issues. He gets defensive and really frustrated with me. He would rather leave the argument and go to bed, I would rather chase him around the house until he concedes defeat at 2am. I don’t reach out for him, I just want to prove that I’m always right. Ha. I think it will *always* be a learning process for us, no matter how long we’re together. 10 years in, and I still think I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Hopefully one day he’ll travel and work a bit less so we can have more time together to figure it all out. xx

  • Reply
    March 21, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    This is excellent! I have read (and it makes sense to me) that not fighting in front of children is not always an option. And sometimes doing it behind closed doors doesn’t mean that children don’t know *that* you’re fighting, only that they might not know specifically what you’re fighting about. Anyhow, so what I read was that it’s less important to keep things from your children when you’re fighting (though obviously, some subject matters are less appropriate than others) but that it’s really important for children to see how a fight resolves so they can experience appropriate resolutions which they can carry on into their own conflicts.

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