26 July 2011

You Need to Fight, But Do You Know How?

It was pointed out to me over the weekend that while I blogged last Thursday about how fighting is good for you, I didn't even touch on how to fight, or, more importantly, how to fight fair.

Sooooo, here we go. I did bounce this off of Jake and he okay-ed me tossing in some examples from some of our more recent fights.

Stay On Topic
What are you fighting about?

Jake and I are currently down to one computer. It wouldn't be a big deal, except we've both gotten used to having a computer available whenever we need it for however long we need it. So, you can imagine, we've drastically had to adjust our lives around having just the one (have to be honest, since using his laptop I'll never be happy with my Netbook or XP again *sigh*). Anyway.

The other night Jake came down on me about hogging the computer, I threw out: How was the time I spent on the computer any different the time he chose to spend in bed when I got up with the kids in mornings? He called me on it.
We weren't fighting about how we chose to spend our time, we were fighting about how every time he wanted or needed to use the computer, I was always on it. So I had to put the whole sleeping in issue aside for later.

I also can't bring up how much time he spent on the computer playing Civilizations a few months ago. Not only does that stray from the immediate topic, it was months ago! Pretty much, if it hasn't happened in the past week, it's Rafiki material - "It doesn't matter, it's in the past" (Go watch the Lion King if you didn't get that reference.)

Admit When You're Not Fighting About the Real Issue
What if what you start fighting about is not what you're really fighting about?

During our fight that was the catalyst for Thursday's post, I started with how he never supports me with discipline when I want the support and then tries to step in at other times when I have already handled things. As we were fighting in circles about this I realized that there were two big issues that were really the main problems: 
A. I feel like he's interfering when I've started disciplining Aedyn, and on the flip side I get frustrated when I have to enforce discipline that Jake initiated. 
B. I have a problem with him bribing Aedyn in order to stop a tantrum in public.
 Once I identified that that was what was really bothering me, and said something to effect of  "Ok, fine, but I think what I'm really mad/upset about is..." We shifted the focus and were able to deal with those issues quickly.
Are we going through this AGAIN?

Explain, Don't Accuse; Avoid Always and Never
You don't know the other person's motives, so don't pretend like you do!

As you can see from the last bit, I break this one on a fairly frequent basis, once it comes out of my mouth I try and re-phrase it, but this is something I'm working on.

Most counselors will tell you to lead off with an "I" statement - "I feel like you were rushing me." Please don't ever do this with me, I don't know why, but when someone leads into a fight with "I feel" it really, really, really ticks me off, maybe because it sounds scripted? But the concept stands, don't come into a conversation with accusations. Something more along the lines of "I know you probably didn't mean it this way, but I really felt rushed when you started moving things into the bedroom while I was still getting ready." will go a lot further than "I'm mad because you were rushing me!" (Also note: Telling him this as he starts moving stuff, much better than waiting until it's all over and you're in the car...)

We have had a fight where I phrased something like that and Jake came back with, "Actually I did mean it that way." But it gave him the chance to say something.

Explain how you feel about a situation, or what the situation looked like to you. Don't try and tell the other person how they felt or what they were thinking; no matter how long you've been together, you don't literally live inside their head so you can't know for sure.

Also, don't tell them what they said. It doesn't matter what they said 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or a week ago. What matters is what you heard, and what you heard included a lot more than just the words they spoke. Let them know that while you may or may not know what they said, what you heard was ______.

Words like "never" and "always" create a situation where you can't really get any beneficial fighting done. The person accused can't really come back with anything and the words give off the feeling of eternity. It seems as if you don't believe anything will ever change. And with that attitude, you're right, they probably never will.

When you would normally say "always" or "never" try to think of even one possible exception (even if you can't, just go with the rest of this) and try something along the lines of "A lot of the time when________" or "It feels like most of the time you ____"

Just remember you're trying to explain things your perspective, not tell them what they did or how they felt. And you're also trying to listen to what their perspective is.

Finish the Fight
If it feels like nothing has changed, then keep going 'til something does!

Climbing a tree during a fight
 is also a good way to get space...
I really hate raised voices, I hate fighting. Jake and his siblings have this normalcy where they all talk at the same time and keep getting louder and louder. It took me awhile to realize that no one was necessarily angry, that's just how they do things. In my family everyone waited until the other person was done speaking. Still stresses me out when they get like that though.

I'm the first to back down and give in because I just can't take the level of tension we've ramped up to; my brain starts to scramble and I don't even make any sense to myself anymore, let alone to anyone listening to me. So I storm off, go into another room, cry, fume, and try to pull my brain back together. Then I head back out, recap what I think he's saying and what I think I've said and we dive into round 2. Repeat as necessary until fight is finished.

Occasionally, we'll come to a point where we've fought and pretty much just made the other person aware of our side and the fight stalls. We've validated our opinions, but we haven't resolved the discrepancy between the two. Jake is pretty good about saying something akin to "Why don't I feel like anything's changed?" I reply "Because it hasn't." and then we take off again.

It's taken us awhile to be able to implement this one. I had a hard time coming back after storming off for many months, and Jake had a hard time not chasing me down. Now he just holds on, hopes that I come back and I trust that he's not going to bring the fight to me until I've had a minute or two to calm down. We've both found that taking these types of breaks does really help, because it gives us a chance to regroup before things become really hurtful. Just remember to come back.

If either person doesn't feel like something has changed, then nothing has. You may not always have a solution at the end of a fight, but something should have changed either in attitude or behavior. Sometimes only time will tell if a change really happened, but at the very least you should find yourself with new hope, faith, contentment, and/or acceptance about the issue.

Affirm That Everything is OK Between You
Do you still love me? Are you still mad at me?

During most fights both parties will deal with a wide range of emotion. At the end of it all, make sure that they know even if you're upset, you still love them and are committed to them. If you take it for granted that they know that, then you may be surprised that after a few years they've taken for granted that you don't feel that way anymore. Once again, don't try a guess what they think or feel, just make sure that they know what you feel.

Jake is really good about doing this immediately. I usually need a few minutes to a few hours to get over any hurt and let go of internal tension before I can feel like everything's really ok, but I try to let him know that I know that I love him and I know that I'll start feeling it again soon.

We both know without a doubt that no matter what comes up we have made the choice to love each other and to honor our vow and commitment to our marriage; but it's nice to hear again after yelling at each other for awhile...


Do you have any other rules that you fight by? Please share those and any advice on fighting fair that you have!

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  1. Keep that focus. Keep it fair. Keep it real and real flexible. Proud for you all. All my blessings.

  2. =) wish I had heard this before our last "fight". They tend to not happen til it's a total blowup, and I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with that... Had a counselor tell me one time that if it gets too heated, take a deep breath, count to 10 and then tell the other person that you are going to go calm down for ____ mins (however long you think you need... realistically) and that you'll be back. I'm horrible about taking breaks in a fight, probably because I don't like them and I just want it to be over with. When this strategy was used by my husband, it worked really well because I would actually leave him alone. If only he would remember to use it! lol


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