Before their divorce, my parents never fought. It was a point of pride and ultimately pain, meant to signal theirs was a marriage that shouldn’t have ended. The media supported this belief – divorce was for couples who fought constantly while happy couples rarely did. Little did I know that fighting fair is far healthier for a relationship than not fighting at all.
This belief is so ingrained that to this day, I think every fight with my beau is The End. Now, those thoughts only last for a moment or two. Early on though they caused a whole lot of angst. Because me freaking out about which appliance he used to make the dressing (for the record: it should be the blender), outweighs over a decade of love & devotion.
I recently discovered that I’m not alone in this hyperbolic thinking. Friends whose relationships I admire and my clients struggle with this too. While this makes me ridiculously angry – why did not one teach us about fighting fair?!- I’m also hella grateful I can text freakout said friends and they calm me the fuck down!
Despite this belief that not fighting = thriving relationship being pervasive AF, my 7 years as a sex & relationship coach (and 12 of being in a serious one) has taught me that judging a relationships’ health based only on how frequently you and your sweetie fight is utterly misguided.
Instead, here’s the no one ever told you truth:
Fighting fair is a normal and healthy part of any relationship.
Your honey is going to hurt your feelings at some point (and vice versa) – as I said in my interview with GirlBoner, it’s unavoidable when two people with their own baggage and life experiences come together! Even if your core values are similar, there’s something you won’t agree on. Hopefully it’s tiny like the aforementioned blender vs food processor fiasco in the midst of which I blurted, “I don’t even know why I’m mad at you about this and I know it’s stupid and I’ll probably write about it someday…”
Even more than that, arguing is an important part of your relationship. Why?
Keeping your emotions inside isn’t healthy for your or your relationship. Not naming & processing them keeps you stuck in the stress cycle which wreaks havoc on your body – think poor sleep, brain fog, a constant sense of unease, tense muscles, and more. Plus, those emotions build up until you explode at your honey and then the fight is way bigger than it could have been if you talked through those emotions from the start.
Does that mean you should scream & shout about every single thing your love does that bugs you?
Nope. (And if you are, might I gently suggest finding a fantastic therapist AASECT?) But it does mean you both have the right to name and feel your feels. Learning how to fight fairly helps you do that without total relationship destruction.
Additionally, you’re communicating. Fighting isn’t the best way to do this but it can be a tool to deepen your communication. Listen closely to what is & isn’t said during the fight, including what’s going through your brain, and you’ll find there’s lots of wisdom for you to learn from.
Fighting fair is a skill you can learn.
Fighting fair is about using the right words, avoiding the wrong ones, and staying in touch – literally & figuratively. Here are 11 tips for fighting fair with your partner.
- Keep it focused. You’re pissed at them or vice versa. I get it but that doesn’t give you the right to bring up every little thing they’ve ever done that bugged you. Focus on the issue at hand and leave the rest for another time. And yes I know how fucking hard this is! This is also the reason the beau and I bicker fairly often. When something bugs me, I bring it up, we hash it out, and then we move on. That way nothing festers.
- Ask yourself if you want to be right or free. As Danielle LaPorte says, choose “free.” TBH I usually want both, which is where #3 comes in.
- Choose your battles. It drives me absolutely bonkers that the beau doesn’t put the pan back into the toaster oven. When we first started living together, I told him that all the time. Then I realized that I’m the only one who cares! That left me a choice: to try to change what he cares about or to put the damn pan back every day while shaking my head, grumbling, and smiling ruefully. The former is impossible so I went with the latter. And guess what? He’s way better at putting the pan back now. #irony
- Touch each other throughout. This could be as simple as holding hands or resting your legs in their lap You don’t have to be all up on each other! I talk more about the importance of maintaining physical contact during a fight in my recent interview with GirlBoner. Click here to read the highlights + listen in.
- It’s ok to go to bed angry or for one of you to sleep on the couch. Making a habit of these isn’t great but if it’s all too much, sleep and/or space gives you both some additional perspective.
- Know what’s off limits. The downside of deep intimacy? It’s so easy to deeply hurt those closest to us. You know exactly which buttons to push to inflict the most pain. Do not use those, m’dear. They put you on the train to defensiveness & stonewalling, two of John Gottman’s 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse. At a time when you aren’t fighting, make a list of the things that are absolutely off limits to bring up in an argument. May I suggest doing this together and sharing your lists? If you feel yourself getting close to using one, follow #7 or #8 below.
- Breathe. Deeply. In and out. Alternatively, tell them you need a moment (this part is key), walk away, and take a breather. I love using this GIF to calm and ground me.
- It’s also ok to not talk to them for a little bit. If you know you’re about to say something you’ll regret (see #6), take a deep breath and tell them. This gives you time & space to discharge some stress, see where you’re really mad at yourself & taking it out on them, and refocus on the issue at hand. Once, during a monster of a fight, I snapped, “I have nothing kind to say right now so to avoid causing serious damage to our relationship, I’m not talking to you.” It lasted hours during which I cried, journaled, and text-ranted to friends. Later, we had a beautifully deep & vulnerable conversation about what happened and how we can prevent similar going forward. Challenging? Yes. Powerful? Absofuckinglutely.
- Own your half. In any argument, you’re both right and you’re both to blame. Read that again for me and then please don’t click away! Back to that monster fight. While reflecting & not talking to my beau, I realized that the situation hit my my “I feel like a burden” sensor. I was mad at him, yes. I also had feelings I didn’t want and was mad at myself for having those feelings! WHEW. When we talked, I addressed where I felt unsupported by him and confessed that part of my anger was misdirected. I’ve found this to be true in every single argument.
- Own your half, part 2. So you’ve owned that you are partly responsible for the fight. The key word there is partly. Don’t go beating yourself up darling or letting your inner mean girl take over. And if she starts to, try #2 on this list.
- Give yourself some TLSC (tender, loving self-care) after. Regardless of the “outcome,” fighting is vulnerable and often leaves you feeling icky. Take a bath, read a trashy romance novel, go for a walk, journal, color, or do whatever else feels yummy and nourishes you.
And real talk: it can be painful AF. And terrifying. Example: the convo I had with th beau earlier where I shared some new truths and revelations from this trip. But this is the story of my life lately, especially in the last month. Feeling the -ish I don't need fade away to make space for more: Connection Creativity Love Productivity I feel more grounded, connected to my soul, clear-headed, and at peace than in the last 6 months since getting sick. And so it is. xo
Fighting fair is an invaluable skill.
It means you get to the end of the argument and your relationship is ok. The issue may not be resolved, but you remembered the most important thing: you love your partner and that trumps whatever disagreements happen along the way.
Tell me in the comments what’s your secret for fighting fair for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card!
Your Partner in Passion, Kait xo
DIVORCE premieres Sunday, October 9th at 10pm on HBO! To learn more, check out the show’s website or find #DivorceOnHBO on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & YouTube. If I didn’t support #freedominpleasure, you wouldn’t hear about it! Thanks for your continued support of Pbk.
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