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Fight Fairly in Relationships: What does that even mean?

What does that mean, to fight fairly? The ways we interact with our partner and the ways we react to our partner matter. The way we talk to our partner and the way we take in what they are sharing with us, matters.  Fighting fairly in a relationship is important for maintaining healthy communication and resolving conflicts in a respectful manner. You know that moment where your partner says something that makes you feel a little less or a little more and your reaction is to roll your eyes? Think about that moment, that feeling as you are doing it. What does that feel like for you? Maybe frustration that shows up in your chest. Or, like, duh, what do you think I’m stupid….uh that feeling shows up as a pit in my stomach. Now think about it on the other side. When I see my partner roll their eyes where does that hit me? It kind of gives me a nervous agitated feeling that turns into anger. Yeah, neither of these sides feel great or make me want to be closer or more vulnerable with my partner. Yet, I still desperately want to be able to be safe with them and be able to feel that deep love and connection where we started.

I have five tips for the two of you to think about as you look to change your interaction patterns and ways you communicate with each other. These tips will help you both to fight more fairly:

· Location

· “I statements”

· Taking responsibility

· Look at the issue not the person

· Curiosity/ Active listening


Where do we want to have this conversation? Is this a calm and neutral setting for us? Are we in a calm state of mind or are we already stressed or heightened from the day? This might feel like a lot but these are great questions to ask to decide if this is the right place and time to discuss our conflict. It makes a difference. If we go into a conversation already feeling overwhelmed or stressed, and maybe not even from our relationship, maybe our job or the kiddos are already putting us at a 6. If that’s the case, we can acknowledge that we want to talk but maybe this is not the best time. It’s a great idea to set a time and place to have hard conversations. This helps us feel more prepared and also allows us to enter it more calmly. Remember, if you or your partner get flooded, it’s ok to take another break and try again later.

"I Statements"

I know, I know….."use your I statements" is a phrase we’ve all heard before but how do we actually do that and even when we do it doesn’t even seem to help. We’re still frustrated and I still feel like my partner is just waiting THEIR turn to use THEIR “I statements”. If this is how it feels then, yeah, we aren’t doing it right.

When we say use your ”I statements” what we mean is share with your partner how things feel for you. This can sound like,

-I felt overwhelmed when I came home and the sink was full of dishes

-It hurt my feelings when I heard…

-When I don’t feel high on the priority list it really bothers me and feels hurtful

-I am concerned that we aren’t looking at all the possibilities

Notice how the word “YOU” did not show up at all….? That’s on purpose. When we say “you” oftentimes our partner hears blame and can shut-down.

It’s not to say that this doesn’t take practice but I’m confident you will find conversations open-up more with this approach. Give it a try and give yourself the added challenge of not using the word “you” at all. Good luck!!

Taking Responsibility

Taking responsibility is also an important and rewarding skill even if at first it may feel like accepting all the blame. When we can acknowledge our part and the role we play in conflict and situations and own it, our partner feels that much more seen. This allows space for discussion and less back and forth with defensiveness.

What does taking responsibility look like?

-I didn’t realize how that made you feel

-I made a mistake

-I can see now how that is hurtful

-I’m sorry

-I see now how my actions didn’t match my intentions

Accepting responsibility helps de-escalate arguments and shows your commitment to working through the conflict toward a better understanding of each other. Taking responsibility is not accepting blame. It is a way to acknowledge the multiple perspectives that are present within relationships.

Focus on the Issue not the Person

When we find ourselves in conflict with our partner and are able to pause and evaluate what is happening for me, we are better able to separate an issue or a situation away from my partner as a person.

Instead of: arriving home to a sink full of dishes and thinking or responding like “ugh…more dishes, my partner is so lazy, they have been home all day and I still come home and have to do the dishes myself. I’m so mad at them.”

Pause and think: Am I tired and overwhelmed from my own work today? What about my partner, were they working from home today or were they in the house all day with the kids….maybe they were busy too.

If we can change the perspective to: Wow, we are both so busy. Doing the dishes just feels like one more thing to add to my to-do list and that is overwhelming.

Then we can reach for our partner and say: “Hey, I’m feeling overwhelmed from today and I bet you are too. Wanna do the dishes together so we can knock them out quicker?”

By “blaming” the situation or the issue such as the dishes, we feel more like a team and that we can tackle things together. It feels more supportive and who knows you might even get some quality time out of it 😉This helps us avoid criticism against our partner’s character which is one of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse according to Dr. John Gottman  Definitely something we want to avoid anyway.

Getting Curious/Active Listening

Me singing “Let’s get curious, curious” oh wait, that song is Physical, physical….well that too but for the sake of this blog post curious is where we’re going. Get curious with your partner. What does that mean? First of all, pause, then ask your partner some questions about their perspective or their thoughts before sharing your own. By knowing where our partner is coming from and what might be their worries or concerns we can better connect and communicate with them. They will feel important and feel that their perspective matters to you. Feeling seen, understood and accepted by our partner is so very important to our ability to be vulnerable and talk through hard things minus defensiveness. By active listening, not interrupting and not planning your response in your head as they are talking,  makes a world of difference in how connected your partner will feel with you. I realize it’s hard to not offer ways to fix an issue or suggestions but that’s not the point. Most likely our partner can solve their own issues and more likely needs someone in their corner supporting them as they do so.

Whoa! That was a whirlwind of ideas to put in place all at once. Take one or two of these ideas home and practice your fair fighting skills. Slow down and see how the two of you respond to each other differently. These will help offer a change in communication patterns and interrupt negative cycles we fall into when not feeling validated or understood.

Conflicts are a part of relationships. It is unavoidable, basically, because we are individuals who grew up differently than our partner and were taught different things about relationships. Implement these tools as a way to better understand each other and change hurtful conversations to fruitful and connecting conversations.

-Katheryn Barton