Conflict is inevitable to some degree for anyone in a relationship. Common relationships include family of origin or their current family unit, neighbors, coworkers, employers/employees, church community and leadership, spouse or romantic partner, friends, and children.
Though the degree of conflict may vary based on the type and the level of closeness in each relationship, conflict or some form of disagreement is highly likely. The highest levels of conflict are usually with a spouse, a child, or one’s family of origin, probably because most of one’s life is lived in the context of these relationships unless someone is single.
Conflict is all around, too. It’s on social media and the news and between people groups. Parents do not do a fantastic job of teaching or modeling for their children what healthy conflict can look like, and other negative experiences make it worse.
People have learned to speak their minds no matter who it hurts and speak their truths no matter the consequences. People yell and scream and name-call, and no one has realized that fair fighting is vital to all healthy relationships.
There is a way to disagree with others and not hurt one another. There is a way to do conflict in a healthy way. Not all conflict is created equal, so some of these fair fighting rules may not seem like they apply to each situation. These do work well for couples, but they can also apply to friendships, family, coworkers, and more.
Rules for Fair Fighting
1. Not everything needs to be said.
Remember that just because you think something or feel something does not mean it needs to be said out loud. For example, if standing in line at a store, and the cashier is taking forever. You may think something like, “This guy is so slow. He shouldn’t even be working here. Is he stupid?” That is a thought borne out of anger, and there is no reason to say it.
Another example could be when arguing with your spouse, you think, “You are just like your mother.” That also may not be something helpful to say at the moment, and it could make it much worse. Not everything needs to be said out loud. Weigh that out before you say it.
2. Stick to one topic.
Most people, especially couples, bring up multiple issues at once in arguments. It begins with an argument about socks on the floor, but it ends with an argument about the cabinets always being left often. There are always issues that can be brought to the light, but it is not helpful or productive to bring them all up at once. Stick to one topic, and if necessary, supply other examples.
3. Do not continue to bring up stuff from the past.
Just as people tend to bring up multiple issues at once, they also bring up hurts and behaviors from the past, even things that have already been resolved. This can be hurtful, and it shows that past hurts have not been forgiven.
Again, try to stick to the issue at hand. If the issue is socks on the floor, don’t bring up the fifteen times they left the socks on the floor over the past two years. If there are unresolved issues or hurt, it is time to talk through them to begin to work through it if possible. Once it has been resolved and moved past, it is wise to not bring it back up.
4. Practice Active listening and do not interrupt.
One of the worst mistakes people make in arguments is not listening well. People interrupt and try to talk over each other. They only think about what they want to say instead of truly hearing what the other is trying to communicate. They misunderstand what the other means because they did not listen.
Active listening requires allowing one person to speak and the other to listen. The person speaking has the floor for the moment, and active listeners do not interrupt. They wait until it is their turn to speak, then ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand what the other is trying to communicate. They choose to stay calm, fight their need to be heard, and hear the other person.
5. Do not wait too long to deal with the problem.
People will often let hurt fester and grow. They do not deal with it when it happens, and they hold it inside. Waiting too long to deal with a problem only makes it worse, like a volcano that waits to erupt. If you are too upset or angry to deal with the issue at the moment it happens, take a little time to calm down, consider what you need to say, then go back and talk with the person about what needs to be said.
6. Be mindful of when the conversation is had.
Trying to talk about something difficult in conflict when someone just gets up in the morning, or just gets home from work, or when sick, tired, or hungry is not going to work. People are cranky and irritable sometimes, and if it seems that way, maybe it would be best to talk about it at a different time. Timing is everything in being able to solve an issue, and that is the point of conflict – to be able to handle the issues and attempt to find a solution.
7. Do not blame.
Passing blame on others is something people tend to do when they get defensive and angry. Blaming others for things that are not their fault is not unhealthy. If it is their fault, then fine. If it is not, do not pass blame. If something is your fault, take ownership of it.
Your feelings, your actions, your thoughts, your decisions, and your actions are your own responsibility. No matter how much another may trigger your emotions or do certain things, be careful to take ownership of what is yours. Blaming only makes the situation worse.
8. Pick your battles.
Not every situation requires a discussion. There are trivial things (like socks on the floor) that do not matter considering eternity or even life itself. Choose the argument. It is unnecessary to argue about politics online and try to prove your point of view is the right one. It is unnecessary to complain about the time of a church service or what dinner tastes like. Pick your battles. If it is something that cannot be ignored, then talk about it. If it is something that can, then leave it alone.
9. Take deep breaths and stay calm.
It is not a good time to discuss anything when you are not calm. What calms you? Taking a walk, taking some deep breaths, saying a prayer, drink some warm tea, take a fifteen-minute time-out. Do yoga, meditate – anything to stay in control of your emotions.
Do something to calm down because if not, your flooded emotions will take over any logic, and everything you say could come out hurtful to another person. Your emotions may not necessarily be bad, and it is important to feel and express them in conflict, but you cannot let them get the best of you. Take the time to calm yourself before saying anything.
Conflict is not a bad thing, and it is not indicative of an unhealthy relationship. If people can engage in healthy discussions and talk about disagreements in ways that lead to solutions, that is a sign of mature relationships.
It takes patience, an ability to stay calm and manage one’s emotions to be able to think clearly and not do anything to intentionally hurt another. Handling conflict well is key, so put these into practice and teach them to those close to you.
Christian Counseling for Relationship Issues
If you’re looking for additional support on fair fighting or how to resolve conflict in relationships, I invite you to schedule a counseling appointment with me or one of the other counselors in our online counselor directory. It would be our pleasure to meet with you and work together to build healthier, stronger relationships.
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