You know what this adds up to, right? Fights. Yes, we fight. We told you about our epic 12-mile marriage counseling hike in Scotland, and we have had at least one in every country we have visited on 4 continents of travel. You cannot be with another person all the time without fighting, and if you add in a business and a nomadic existence requiring dozens of negotiations and decisions a week, things are bound to get interesting.
One thing we’ve learned during our 16 months of travel and togetherness is there is no real buildup of a fight anymore. In our old lives, we had plenty of space and outside commitments to take off the pressure of a simmering resentment, and it could build for days or weeks at a time. In our current lifestyle, we’re lucky if we can hold it below a boil for 24 hours (though thankfully we don’t have to experience this very often anymore).
So even though we disagree, the arguments don’t last as long and we are actually getting pretty good at resolving things like adults. It takes a lot of practice to get to this point, and since we’ve had the benefit of it, here are the 5 best strategies for successfully arguing with your mate (successful meaning you come to a conclusion and deepen your relationship and understanding of each other, not that you just get tired of fighting and call a truce or have sex or one of you leaves.)
How to fight fair
This article was originally inspired by the name calling, lying, fact twisting, passive aggressive moves, and just plain meanness we’ve seen in the political news coverage from the US. The election is already nasty and we still have 9 months to go. If the average couple behaved this way when trying to work out a budget, take care of a home, raise children, or even plan a vacation, our divorce rate would be 90% (the other 10% being the portion of our population not deemed suitable for the rights and privileges of marriage in the first place by the same elected officials who keep getting caught in adultery scandals – go figure).
Stay on topic
Fight about one thing at a time. Don’t drag out what happened yesterday, last month, or last year. This is the death blow to a fight because it takes it in a winding circle forever.
This is what politicians do. (Have you ever watched a televised debate?)
And this is what people do who don’t actually have a strong argument in the first place.
If it is worth fighting about, then fight about it. If you have enough energy to bring up 10 other things, then the fight isn’t about what you thought it was in the first place. Go back to your corner and rethink it before you come out swinging.
Avoid extremes of language
Ha! I’ll bet you thought I was going to talk about profanity here, huh? No way. Verbal bombs work for some people, so I’m not going to diss them. But I am going to call out the “always/never/you make me” trio that will stop any progress in a fight immediately.
Always and never are not real. Always and never are lies. And when you bring up always and never it means you cannot think of a single good instance to discuss and would rather fling an inflammatory bomb to make your point. If you cannot name one instance, you do not have a point. If you can name one instance, fight about that one instance.
Politicians do this frequently, making blanket statements about the other party, groups of people, countries, and regions of the world. They say it as fact to help prove their point, but you know nothing is ALWAYS or NEVER and when someone trots out that line, they haven’t done their homework. They are counting on you to be lazy enough not to ask for details.
Fight in specifics, not generalities.
It works the same in a relationship, and when you cannot name specifics you cannot get to the root of the problem. “You NEVER take out the trash” is actually “You haven’t taken out the trash for the last week.” The first one has no response but anger at the lie because the other person has obviously taken out the trash before – it is why you are mad that he/she isn’t doing it now. The second one opens you up to a conversation of what has been keeping someone from their regular chores, which is probably the true issue of the fight.
You are crazy if you think he/she makes you crazy
The “you make/made me” tactic is another gem. No one can make you do anything. A more accurate response might be “I feel like X when you do Y,” fully taking responsibility for your actions but showing your partner what is a trigger issue for you.
Your partner is then free to point out that your reaction is totally off base (“Really, me spending time with my friends once a month makes you feel lonely? Sounds like the issue is yours, not mine.”) or see that you have a point and adjust their behavior going forward (“I never meant to worry you by not calling when I am going to be more than an hour late from work. Even if I’m really busy, I’ll take the time to text you from now on.”) Think about your complaint from your partner’s standpoint and see if you can shoot some holes in it yourself before you react and open your mouth.
Avoiding an argument altogether because you realize you are the jerk first is a huge timesaver and an effective personal growth tip.
(Is your mate the one blaming you for their negative actions toward you and treating you overall like crap? This goes way beyond regular couple fighting. Get some help.)
I love it when politicians say they aren’t going to negative with their ads “unless the other candidate does,” as if someone else’s behavior could make you change your own. If you aren’t a dick, how could someone else’s actions turn you into one? There had to be some dickishness in the genes already.
Assigning the worst motives in your mate
Why is it that this person we love to pieces one day can be the devil himself another? Instead of looking at this as a problem that needs to be solved, all of a sudden it becomes the evil plan of a demonic mastermind set on ruining your life. (Perhaps this is my Drama Queen getting a little wild.)
Give your mate the benefit of the doubt. You may not agree on the particular topic at hand, but unless you are living with a total jerk, they probably aren’t lying awake at night plotting ways to make your life miserable.
When he or she says something that is not quite right but you know what they meant, don’t jump on the fact that they used the wrong words just because you can. (Just because you are a better debater does not make you a better human being.) Don’t assign motives to their actions that are completely off base just because you are mad.
Remember that this person loves you and even if he or she did screw up, it isn’t because they are the spawn of Satan or a newly-diagnosed sociopath.
You can be mad, just don’t get crazy with it.
This brings to mind the rants about the “death panels” that were going to come to pass with President Obama’s healthcare plan. Disagree with the man’s healthcare plan if you don’t believe in a single payor system, but please don’t make up crazy stuff to strengthen your argument, because it certainly doesn’t.
Agree to the resolution
As the the fight is winding down, you can’t skip the final step just because you are starting to feel nice to each other again. It takes calmly stating the resolution – what you are going to do and what your mate it is going to do to resolve this – so you don’t have to revisit this same topic again.
We like to say “going forward…” as the end of our arguments, spelling out what each of is going to do about our behavior and how we can alert the other person when we sense one of us is veering off track so we don’t have the same fight over and over. Unlike politicians, we don’t get paid for that.
Our politicians go into a stalemate, break for recess, or kill bills. If something gets through, the other side vows to even the score (as if managing our country needed a score sheet).
When the goal is resolution and not keeping score, you’ll both come out ahead.
Fighting for the sake of fighting is something politicians do. They smear mud hoping they can land more on their opponent than they do themselves.
In a relationship, a fight is a necessary part of building a life together. Even though they aren’t always pleasant, having a goal to resolve the issue and not just to win, say “I told you so,” or give an ultimatum is key to Living the Good Life.
Oh yeah, and makeup sex. Definitely makeup sex.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have some sweet bipartisan lovin’ from our politicians about now?