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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- You may not if… If you cannot articulate why you’re upset, you do not need to have the conversation until you can.
- You also may not if… If you cannot discuss things calmly without yelling, you don’t need to have the conversation until you can.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tape delayed conversations. There is a reason that the saw of counting to ten before speaking has lasted this long.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Start, conduct, and finish with humility. There is no weakness in forgiveness, no failure in apology.