Are You Fighting Fair? Here Is How To Do It
People disagree- it’s one the few guarantees in life.
Disagreement itself is not a bad thing. In fact, our differences are what makes life interesting. Every single one of us brings a perspective that is bound to clash with somebody else’s.
When disagreements evolve into arguments and fights, how do we ensure that we are arguing fairly and honouring each others’ dignity?
First, let’s accept that conflict is normal
Having fights does not necessarily diminish the quality of the relationship. In fact, fighting, when done fairly, can ensure that both parties get their needs met without experiencing bitterness or resentment.
In a CBC article, divorce lawyer Jacinta Gallant noted that it’s not the topic of the fights (i.e financial concerns, in-laws etc) that matter as much as he destructive way some couples fight.
She also aptly notes that ‘fair’ can mean different things to different people. For some, ‘fair’ means resolving a conflict through give and take. For others, it means getting their way, or proving they are right.
For those interested in learning how to improve that give and take in fights/arguments without getting nasty, we are looking at fair fighting principles!
Fighting Fair Is A Skill
Our early exposure to conflict often influences the way we approach conflict in our own relationships as adults. The conflict styles we see in our primary caregivers can make a particularly lasting impact.
Does this mean that we have to build our own conflict style on those early blueprints? Most definitely not!
Fighting fair is a skill that can be learned.
In a fair fight, participants:
Keeps things civil
Never aim ‘below the belt’
Strive to resolve, not aggravate the situation
Let’s break this down even further with our fair conflict principles.
Before we go any further, ‘fighting fair’ does not refer to intimate partner violence. In 2020, as schools, stores, and offices closed, domestic violence hotlines became flooded with calls. While bickering and increased tension in relationships has become quite common during the pandemic, domestic and intimate partner violence is an entirely separate safety concern that should never be normalized.
5 Fair Conflict Principles
Fight with care and intention. These fair conflict principles embody both care and intention- because it’s important to remember that the person we are fighting with is someone who means a lot to us. It’s when we forget our commitment to care that fights can get nasty.
Here we go!
1) Establish Your Fair Fight Boundaries
Before you even find yourself in a disagreement, talk to each other about what actions and behaviours cross a line for you during a fight. Negotiating fair fight boundaries BEFORE your next fight means that you know the expectations are the maintain a certain level of respect. This allows for more constructive dialogue and less knee-jerk reactions that can often leave both parties feeling hurt or guilty afterward.
Boundaries can include:
- No name-calling
- No aggression/intimidation
- No yelling/screaming
- Staying in the room during the argument OR agreeing that it is acceptable to take a short breather and come back
- Avoiding sarcasm and passive-aggressive remarks
Another piece of this is reflecting on where/when you tend to get defensive during a fight. Often when one partner gets defensive, the other will too…and that can lead to a breakdown in communication and all sorts of boundary-crossing
2) Stay Focused On The Issue
Fights begin heading in an unfair direction when either party keeps bringing up painful aspects of the past. Bringing up past or irrelevant hurts can complicate the issue at hand even further or completely muddle it, until neither party knows what they are fighting about anymore.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t bring up relevant information from the past! However, be mindful of not losing the present conversation in the process.
Sometime, we stockpile grievances. This means we store up all our issues and hurt feelings to unload them on our partner during an argument. Why is this unfair? Well, neither of you gets a chance to actually resolve anything! The fight does not further the relationship.
It’s much better to stay relevant and also deal with issues as they come up.
3) Remember, You Are On The Same Team
It’s remarkably easy to forget this when you are upset. However, if you can remember that you are a team facing a problem together (versus facing off against each other) you are much less likely to leave hurtful comments and behaviours at the door.
If you fight to win, you are looking to defeat your partner, and this will actually hurt the relationship.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel like you are on the same team. This can occur when there is a breach of trust in the relationship, or the couple feels emotionally distant from each other.
In this case, it’s more than okay to seek out a professional therapist who can facilitate the dynamic and conversation between you.
4) Be Willing To Check Yourself (And Your Ego)
Recognize when your ego is feeding your need to be right, fuelling stubbornness, or obstructing you from seeing your partner as a person.
Being willing to check yourself also means being willing to apologize if you cross a fair fight boundary, or if your partner guides you to understand how your behaviour hurt them.
5) Validate Your Partner’s Feelings
Fighting fair means understanding that your partner has a right to their feelings. When our feelings are minimized or ignored, all fairness goes out the window. It shows us that our partner is not willing to engage with the reality of our experience.
This ties in with #4! Sometimes, validating our partner’s feelings means putting aside our ego, understanding that we can cause harm, and sitting with the challenging emotions that realization may stir up.
Fighting fair is by no means easy! However, during a pandemic, it may the difference between a fight that brings. you closer together and one that furthers distance and tension.
I want to hear from you: How do you keep things fair in a fight?
Until next time!
Zainib Abdullah is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Her approach to healing incorporates various therapeutic modalities. She works from a client-centred, anti-racist/oppressive/colonial & trauma-informed framework. As a yoga teacher and student in the lineage of Classical Yoga, she further incorporates mindfulness based therapies to support clients in accessing greater connectedness to their inner wisdom and peace.