No Sand in the Eyes is the Start

A couple of weeks ago Anonymiss wrote a post about the primary elements of a successful long term relationship. In the comments, I noted that Love and Respect are the universally recognized concepts.  The essential one that no one teaches you is the ability to fight fairly and well; she asked how one does that.

The best thing about my failed marriage is that the process of trying to save it helped teach me how to better be a partner.  Arguments and disagreements will always occur, and just like people relationships are better judged in crisis than smooth seas.  I won’t pretend that I always fight in this manner, but I do always try.  From the perspective of a divorced man who spent way too much cash and time trying to save a failing marriage, these are the best lessons I learned from that experience.

  1. The number one rule. Just like a street fight the best way to win is to avoid it.  Be sure that it’s worth it.  Ask yourself if you really need to be right about this, if the question is really one that is worth the risk?
  2. Start with the end and work backwards. If you could script the conversation/argument, what outcome would you write?  Is that outcome realistic?  With the desired result in mind, what has to happen to achieve it?
  3. Don’t paint conversational corners. The only thing finite in an argument are your feelings so avoid concrete declaratives about anything else.  Don’t declare motives to another person’s actions. Don’t end sentences with the word “period.”  Those types of statements almost force a person to become defensive.
  4. A good place to begin. If you start with the assumption that no matter the outcome the relationship will still be standing, it helps a great deal.  If you cannot begin with that assumption, then you need to have a clear idea of what you want from the argument.
  5. Limit arguments to the actual argument. If you’re discussing discussing “X,” intermingling or peppering the conversation with “Y” is inefficient at best and makes your partner feel like you piling-on at worst.  If through the course of conversation “Y” becomes an organic part of the discussion, then discuss it but do acknowledge the change in subject.
  6. You may not if… If you cannot articulate why you’re upset, you do not need to have the conversation until you can.
  7. You also may not if… If you cannot discuss things calmly without yelling, you don’t need to have the conversation until you can.
  8. Commit the following to memory: “I am really angry/pissed/seething at you right now, I’m going to a neutral corner until I calm down a bit.”  This phrase is especially helpful when combined with the assumption from number 4.
  9. No proxy statements. Bringing the opinions of others not present into the conversation is piling on and can unnecessarily damage the relationship of the third party with your partner.  I.E. saying “…and your brother John agrees with me too” has limited purpose and can cause severe harm to the sibling relationship.
  10. Tape delayed conversations. There is a reason that the saw of counting to ten before speaking has lasted this long.
  11. Schedule and Script. Let us suppose that you were sufficiently angry about something that you thought going to neutral corners for a day or two was a good idea.  Scheduling the argument with your partner gives her/him the opportunity to prepare as well.  Writing a list of your grievances is also a good thing – resisting the affections of those who would mock you for this would be a good thing too.
  12. One wrong may be insensitive; returning it in kind is intentional. Your partner saying or doing something that causes pain does not grant license to be hurtful in return.  Being deliberately or intentionally hurtful is the reddest of red flags.
  13. Benefit of the doubt. Almost every statement can be interpreted in at least one alternate way.  If you don’t trust your partner enough to give her/him the benefit of the most charitable interpretation, then you have a larger issue.  Consider that larger issue.
  14. Start, conduct, and finish with humility.  There is no weakness in forgiveness, no failure in apology.
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22 Responses to No Sand in the Eyes is the Start

  1. I loved the post — so much so that I’m forwarding it to several friends! Thanks for the sound advice, Refugee!

    Thank you. I am glad that I can share this advice with others because if I can amortize the cost of it all against as many people as possible then my divorce will almost be affordable…. assuming this post get about a cajillion more hits.

  2. hey! this is great. i was worried you hadn’t seen my question in response to your comment, so i am excited to see this post. all great advice…you’ve given me a bunch to chew on, so thanks.

    Special thanks for 6,7,8– though what do you do when your partner accuses you of running away from the discussion? AND, maybe more importantly, how do you avoid getting so angry and tongue-tied in the first place?

    If your partner accuses you of running away from the discussion, tell her/him that “they’re completely right.” Having a good argument without histrionics on either side is more important than having a timely discussion. If after calmly explaining why you need a neutral corner and s/he doesn’t understand that, treat that information however you wish, but I’d consider it a pretty red flag.

  3. brookem says:

    i liked this a lot. i’m going to hang on to it for future reference. because as you acknowledged, even under the best circumstances of a relationship, fights are bound to happen. i tend to be one that sees it as more of a red flag if they NEVER happen. there is so much to be learned and gained from a fair fight. unfortunately not all of them are fair, but these guidelines sure do help.

    ps- still waiting for your fall meme!

    I am with you – zero arguments are a big flag. I don’t think I would ever pick a fight but I might play devil’s advocate in a place where I might not ordinarily.

    And, yeah, I know that I still owe a response to that meme.

  4. Titania says:

    This is great, Refugee. I just need to practice remembering it at the time of need, that might be the really hard part (at least for me), being able to keep the cool head to think about this when one is angry and hurting.

    None of these are easily recalled in the heat of a moment. For me, the most important one is remembering to go to a neutral corner if only for long enough to remember all the others.

  5. shine says:

    Good advice. The unfortunate part is that usually only one person is willing to follow this advice. But you’re right, if the other person refuses to respect you, it’s a big, shiny red flag.

    I’ve been there. And it’s not always easy to remain calm, but it’s important to try.

    You’re so right that often only one person is adhering to these at the time of the conversation. Frankly, I think that most people can be forgiven this since so few are taught this. It is after a reasoned non-preachy explanation that behavior must change or the relationship reevaluated.

  6. Is it weird that I kind of want to print this post out and save it for future reference?

    Nah. Just take it as a supreme compliment. :)

    Very flattered indeed. Thank you.

  7. f.B says:

    #12 is so key. There are no victories. If you’re trading blows like you’re going to “win,” you might as well just start dividing the furniture.

    If I somehow could devise a way to agree with your statement more than I do, it still wouldn’t be enough. So well put.

  8. BigSis says:

    This is BRILLIANT. I’m with hannah – I’m printing it out so I can remind myself of the great advice. And, I think it’s appropriate for non-romantic relationships too.

    I think people too often distinguish between familial, romantic, and friendly relationships in how they handle problems. To be sure there are distinctions, just not as many as we think when it comes to conflict resolution.

  9. Christina says:

    I have to agree with you on these 14. If you do fight, fight fair, stay calm, be rational and open minded.

    If? If? There’s always going to be fights. Besides, perennially smooth seas are no fun for sailing.

  10. Jean says:

    These are great ground rules. One of the best things I learned from my relationship with my ex was how to have a civilized disagreement. Even though the relationship ultimately didn’t work, we never once had that whole knock-down-drag-out, mass-casualties fight, and I am ultra grateful for that.

    I think f.B. said it best – when you have those kind of fights everyone comes out bloody.

  11. Jaime says:

    I love rule #4, it’s the one I live by the most.
    No matter what, this person will still be standing in front of me 20 or 30 years from now, so how do we fix this/ get through this and move on. I think you have to emphatically believe that in the present, even if the future decides to paintit differently.
    Great advice.

    You are so fortunate to have found that person about whom you know that they’ll be there in that time.

  12. Alice says:

    these are EXCELLENT rules. i feel like i should print these out and stick them to my forehead, just as a precaution. or as a reminder to whoever i’m fighting with ;-)

    Trust me when I say that I spent enough money for a small BMW to learn these lessons and I still need to work to remember them.

  13. lacochran says:

    Good list but we don’t delay discussions. We try to stay calm but if we delay, it gets worse. MUCH worse. No festering. If there’s emotion, we tend to try to discount the emotional component and still try to work the problem as best we can.

    Everything else I agree with completely.

    As for #1? I need to be right about everything. I know you’ll find this hard to believe–I know I do– but sometimes I’m not. Crazy, that’s what it is. Crazy.

    Rules for anything can be a good guideline for creating order from chaos. They should never be used, however, to the extent that order can become the enemy of resolution.

  14. k8 says:

    I don’t know about number 2. I mean – I’m hardly a relationship expert. However, if you have a desired outcome and your partner has another desired outcome in mind, there might not perhaps be a meeting ground to go to in the end.

    The objective behind determining the desired outcome is to help one decide both if it is even a reasonable notion and therefor worth pursuing, and to help one back into the solution. If you know where you’d like it to go, you have an easier time of getting there.

  15. This is a clip and save candidate right here. Thanks.

    Thank you for the compliment.

  16. Gilahi says:

    I would add: Do not twist another’s words. Saying, “I prefer recipe A to recipe B”, is NOT saying, “I hate recipe B”, and should not be interpreted that way.

    Agreed, I think this is an excellent corollary to interpreting all statements in the most positive and benign light.

  17. kitty says:

    extremely well said. fighting doesn’t have to be awful. i wonder if there’s a point of advice for keeping your defenses down? getting defensive is point in which the fight is no longer fair.

  18. jamy says:

    This is great. To answer kitty about how to keep your defenses down…the key thing in any argument is to try and remember: you are not the target. I know it seems counter intuitive, but think about the last time you were angry. Was it really about you, your issues, your reactions MORE than the other person’s? If so, then the same applies to your partner. Thus, you are not the target. If you can de-personalize when things are oh-so-personal, it will help you stay off the defensive and help the other person stay on point.

    Sigh. I am good at fighting fair but not good at de-personalizing. We all have to keep working on this forever.

  19. Julie says:

    Perfect list and an excellent reminder.

    I learned a lot of these lessons from my last relationship and have found myself “teaching” these lessons to The Fireman over the past months. Point #7: The other night – in the depths of an argument that could’ve had holes punched into walls – he looked at me and said “You said you won’t listen to me if I’m not calm and I’m finding it very hard to stay calm right now. I’m trying so hard not to yell.” “Well, take a minute then. The second you raise your voice, the conversation will be over.” He didn’t need a minute – he just took a deep breath and turned the conversation from raw emotion to a logical rational standpoint. Honestly, I was proud of him. People do need to learn to fight.

    Fighting fair is huge. Picking battles is even bigger. I also find that unless it’s a dealbreaker, it’s really okay to agree to disagree and try to find some sort of compromise.

  20. nicole says:

    how wonderfully refreshing to hear your thoughts. they so closely mirror those of mine and many other women in my life. like jaime, what gets me through an argument is knowing that in the end, neither of us is going anywhere. that keeps me calm, knowing that we can get through it. and hopefully anything.
    good stuff, rr

  21. I LOVE a good fight (though I call them “heated discussions” as they are usually political) but I agree completely with you- if you don’t fight fair with a person that you are supposed to love, then you should be jumping in to the scuffle in the first place.

  22. […] would refer you to the Refugee Guide to Fighting Fairly for more […]

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