Healthy, Friendly, Fair Fighting Lets Us “Fight” And Still Stay Friends
As psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker says, “no two people in the world, no matter how made for each other they feel, will ever agree about everything at all times…Couples do need to be able to negotiate differences, to have room for constructive criticism, and a way to assert options and to disagree…Couples need to “have a way to express intense feelings (that the other person may not understand or support) without feeling that they will be judged or <found> lacking for doing so.”
To have a healthy relationship, couples should know the skills for friendly fighting. Hartwell- Walker describes these as “dealing with conflict respectfully and working together to find a workable solution.” Healthy fighting means “working out differences that matter and engaging passionately about things we feel passions about, without resorting to hurting one another.” Friendly fighting “helps us let off steam without getting burned…It lets us ‘fight’ and still stay friends.”
According to Dr. Hartwell-Walker, “most couples learn the act of friendly fighting by working it out together and supporting each other in staying in close relationship even when differences mystify, frustrate and upset them.”
Fair Fighting: Ground Rules
The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center offers Healthy Fighting Ground Rules and a Step by Step guide to this conflict resolution technique.
Remain calm. Try not to overreact to difficult situations. By remaining calm it is more likely that others will consider your viewpoint.
Express feelings in words, not actions. If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, take a “time out” and do something to help yourself feel calm: take a walk, do some deep breathing, play with the dog, write in your journal- whatever works for you.
Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on.
Deal with only one issue at a time. Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
No hitting below the belt. Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
Avoid accusations. Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than on understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
Try not to generalize. Avoid words like “never” or “always.” Such generalizations are usually inaccurate and will heighten tensions.
Avoid make believe. Exaggerating or inventing a complaint – or your feelings about it – will prevent the real issues from surfacing. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
Don’t stockpile. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. It’s almost impossible to deal with numerous old problems for which recollections may differ. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
Avoid clamming up. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result. However, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or shutting down, you may need to take a break from the discussion. Just let your partner know that you will return to the conversation as soon as you are able and then don’t forget to follow-up.
Establish common ground rules. You may even want to ask your partner-in-conflict to read and discuss this information with you. When both people accept positive common ground rules for managing a conflict, resolution becomes much more likely.