9 Rules for Fighting Fair
As a psychotherapist who works with teenagers and their parents and couples, one of the most difficult issues I see people encounter is clear communication.
Based on how we are raised in our society, most of us do not receive education on communicating with each other. As a result, miscommunication is very common between people and this typically results in relationship difficulties and hurt feelings.
Another common issue regarding communication is fighting or disagreements. Many people feel that a disagreement or fight is always a bad thing for a relationship. However, this is not true. If you handle a disagreement or argument fairly, it can be a very healthy thing for a relationship. It can help you overcome past miscommunications or help you to resolve a problem.
How Families Can Fight Fair
Parents who are dealing with teenagers need to remember that, for teenagers, their frontal lobes in their brains are still developing. Therefore, they cannot always reason like adults and often have difficulties having fair disagreements.
Yes, this might sound odd, but you can have a disagreement that is fair. You do not always need to use insults or not listen to each other.
Below I have included a list by TherapyAid.com which explains fair fighting rules. By using these rules, you and your teenager may be able to resolve an issue or at least come to an understanding without saying things that will hurt one another.
Parents: what I suggest is that you sit down with your teenager and discuss that you would like to start to using these rules in your family. Take the time to go over everything so you both understand the rules. Also make a copy for yourself, one for your teen, and a copy to put on the refrigerator to remind everyone. Remember, these rules will be a change for both of you, so don’t be surprised if it takes you some time to get used to these rules and use them on a regular basis. Change usually never occurs overnight.
How Couples Can Fight Fair
While these rules are beneficial for parents and teenagers, they are also useful for couples. For couples, I recommend taking the same steps as parents and teens. First, sit down and go over the rules so you both have the same understanding. Make and keep copies for yourselves. The next time you have a disagreement, practice using these rules. Keep practicing until you become comfortable using them.
The 9 Fair Fighting Rules
1. Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
2. Discuss one issue at a time.
“You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
3. No degrading language.
Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten.
4. Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
“I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”).
5. Take turns talking.
This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing one minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don’t spend your partner’s minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen!
6. No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later.
7. No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse.
8. Take a time-out if things get too heated.
In a perfect world, we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn’t work like that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down.
9. Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can’t come to a compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.
Again, this might seem simple to some people, but communication problems are one of the biggest problems I encounter as a psychotherapist. We simply don’t educate children about clear communication, which creates problems when these children become adults and try to talk with each other. So don’t be embarrassed or assume you do not need help in this area. Simply read the rules and try them in your life and see what happens.
About the Author: Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience. He specializes in treating teenagers and families. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page.