Welp, we had a fight on Sunday. We fought in the car after church, in front of the girls, about disciplining our children. It didn’t last long, mainly because he had to get out of the car to go back to church to volunteer. Oh, and please ask me how much I love telling you that we fight with each other AND we volunteer at church in the SAME DAY! I don’t love it, but it’s the reality of our marriage, and I’ll make a safe bet you’ve had fights at some pretty inopportune times yourselves.
I will never forget my first fight with Tony. Ok, that’s not true. I don’t remember it at all. I don’t remember how it started or what we fought about, and that is probably true of 90% of the fights we’ve had since then. What I do remember is how I felt.
We’d only been dating a few months and, of course, I was madly in love. As we argued and yelled at each other in his truck on our way to spend time with some friends, I remember feeling so shocked and hurt that we were actually fighting. I didn’t hear a word he said. I’m sure he wasn’t hearing me. I kept thinking, “Is this how he fought in his last relationship? I hate this!”
Tony had dated his previous girlfriend for ten years. Yes, you read that correctly. They got together when they were just 16 years old and stayed together until they were 26. Most people, including their families, even including myself, thought they would get married. In ten years of being with someone, I was sure they had developed their routines, their own expectations of one another, and their very own way of fighting. I thought about that as we unleashed on each other that night. I thought also about my own 3 year off-again, on-again relationship pre-Tony and the habits of fighting I’d been in with my own ex-boyfriend.
I didn’t want to fight with Tony. Even more, I was sure I didn’t want to fight like this. I didn’t want us to treat each other the way we had treated our exes. I wanted something new, something healthy with this man I was falling in love with. We calmed down eventually and held each other and agreed that fighting with each other was awful. However insightful, I didn’t want to experience that again. We kissed and agreed on just one thing: No yelling.
That was it. That was how it started. We talked that night about how yelling was so disrespectful. We talked about how neither of us liked being yelled at. We agreed that yelling was simply unkind, and furthermore, unproductive. We agreed that if we could avoid it, avoid yelling at each other, we could have better fights. I loved that even early on, we knew that fighting was inevitable. Neither of us were trying to avoid getting into disagreements, but we were both so wounded by the fight we’d just had and overtaken by our love for one another, that we didn’t want to have that same experience again.
Now, based on our “No Yelling” rule, you might think we fight like communication experts or therapists. Not true. It took quite some time for us to navigate our differences of opinion and frustrations. The “No Yelling” rule led to some pretty major dysfunctions in the beginning. I’ve mentioned before that I can tend to be the stonewalling silent-type while Tony wants to really get everything out on the table and come to a solution together. Taking away my option to freak out on him made me want to withhold altogether. It was like a pendulum swing from airing it all out to airing nothing at all. Not healthy.
Tony once described us like deflating balloons. I was a balloon that, once we’d talked about the problem and apologized to one another, needed to deflate slowly and process. He was a balloon that, once the problem had been addressed, had been popped and all of the hot air was gone. He was fully deflated and ready to move on.
I’d say we are still this way: the slow deflater vs. the popped and resolved. Still, as a couple who wants so much to stay married, we learn each other along the way and start to say out loud what we might otherwise hold back out of pride. So, our one rule has led to many other underlying rules for fair fighting. For instance: no eye-rolling, no bringing up past frustrations, no low-blows, and no threatening divorce.
We know that arguing in marriage is inevitable, but we believe that the fewer stinging darts we aim at one another, the better off we’ll be.
I love these. They seem pretty straight-forward, and I think we could all agree that implementing them would make our fights more peaceful. But, how? What if the habit and cycle of fighting you and your spouse are in includes yelling and interrupting? What if you are defensive by nature and not just with your husband or wife? Let’s try some homework.
Fair Fighting Homework
Set a “Fight Rules Date Night” for yourselves on the calendar.
Whether you do this exercise at home or on a night out, take some time when you’re both in a good mood to come up with your own list of rules.
Write out your list together.
Maybe it will include the things above. Maybe you already know your own triggers and pet peeves. For instance, you might add “No checking your phone during a fight.” It’s important that you both are aware of and on the same page about the rules, otherwise one of you is the rule-keeper while the other is the unintentional rule-breaker. This will cause even more tension.
Once you’ve honed in on your list, the next step is to acknowledge that these things are probably going to bring some change to your usual ways and change is not always easy. Ask for patience with one another, since you’ll likely break a few of these rules the first few times you fight.
Make up a “Safe Word”.
Choose a neutral word or phrase that either of you can use at any time if you feel like your fight is escalating and that you might, or your spouse is, breaking the fight rules. Choose something goofy like “Dumbledore” or “Downward Facing Dog.” A good safe word should work as a diffuser and repair attempt. It’s even better if it makes you laugh. Regardless of what you come up with, the purpose is to be a signal that you need to take a break to calm down before re-engaging in the issue you are fighting about.
Fighting and arguing are perfectly healthy and natural parts of marriage – even happy marriages. Still, if we can remember that we are on the same team with our spouse, if we can remember that we want to stay married, I think talking with each other and agreeing on our own rules for fighting fair is a worthy discussion. So, take off your boxing gloves, listen to one another, lower your voice, and #staymarried.
P.S. If you liked this post, you may also like to read Repair Attempts. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!