SOME SAY, “ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR” – BUT IN MY OPINION, THAT ACTUALLY ISN’T TRUE.
If you really sit down and think about it, when it comes to love, there is nothing fair at all about fighting fair; there’s nothing fair about taking off your boxing gloves, swallowing your pride, and trying to level the playing field. In most cases of epic historical wars, there was a clear winner and a clear loser, and history was changed because one of the opponents came out “on top”. There are, of course, significant moments where a “truce” was called, but even in those cases, history proves that a “truce” isn’t always enough; someone on one side or the other eventually begins to believe that victory was taken from them, and that if they had been the leader in the first place, victory would have been achieved. This usually leads to an uprising, which leads to another war, until somebody else decides they could have done it better… and the cycle continues.
Over the years, we have worked with hundreds of couples in crisis. Thankfully, in that time we have watched hundreds of people repair and restore their marriages and go on to live incredibly happy, healthy, and connected lives together! Unfortunately, in that time, we have also watched many people destroy their marriages and walk away more broken than when they came in. In either scenario, it’s completely up to the individuals involved- we can give them all the tools we want to, but we can’t fix their marriage unless they choose to do so. However, in all of our time doing this, we have NEVER seen a couple repair their marriage and go on to live a healthy, happy, and connected life together by “fighting dirty” or choosing to continue to belittle and hurt one another. Instead, we’ve watched couples change their habits and choose love, even when they don’t feel like it. This isn’t easy, but it works! After all, isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the very definition of insanity?
If you want to change the outcome of your cycle, you’ve got to change your methods.
After joyfully watching so many marriages succeed and after somberly watching so many marriages fail, we’ve come up with 6 steps to fighting fair to help you stay on track as you work out your disagreements together:
1. Fighting Fair: Swallow Your Pride
If your spouse has come to you, wanting to talk about conflict or distress in your marriage, it’s important for you to do two things. First, take a deep breath. Then second, take a minute to put yourself in a humble mental “head space” so that you’re able to accept and receive the truth that you have probably done something that hurt your spouse (either intentionally or unintentionally). Even if you don’t like what you’re about to hear, it’s important that you keep your cool and let your spouse share their hurt with you. Being prideful or defensive will only shut your spouse out and cause them to swallow the bitter taste you left in their mouth … which won’t contribute positively to your overall marriage connection.
Take note: You aren’t perfect, and even if you didn’t mean to hurt them… your spouse is clearly standing in front of you, taking a risk, to try and share with you how you can make your marriage better. Don’t miss the opportunity to build trust and security with your spouse by closing your mind to the truth that you could have done something wrong. That’s not fair to either of you.
2. Fighting Fair: Actively listen until your spouse is done speaking
Once you’ve shut down your pride and made room for humility, it’s important for you to follow that up by choosing to be an active, yet silent, listener as your spouse speaks to you. Use your body language to convey that you care what they are talking about by holding steady eye contact, leaning in, nodding your head, and by using appropriate facial expressions. You will get your turn to speak, so it’s not fair for you to interrupt your spouse or to throw them off track by inserting your own agenda. Let them speak and do your best to really hear what they’re saying.
3. Fighting Fair: Ask clarifying questions before you respond
Once your spouse stops talking, it’s best for you to count to 3 in your head before responding. This will give your spouse a chance to continue speaking if they still need to, or it will give you the green light that they truly have said all they needed to say, and it will give you a chance to ask some clarifying questions. Asking clarifying questions keeps the disagreement fair because it gives your spouse a chance to correct you if you heard them wrong, and it gives you a chance to avoid unnecessary hurt feelings by making sure you heard what they were saying and that you understood the full scope of their intentions.
4. Fighting Fair: When it’s your turn to respond, stay on point
Just because you were passed the microphone, it doesn’t mean it’s fair game to bring up any disagreement or fight you’ve ever had to prove a point. Love doesn’t keep score. So, take what your spouse is saying in the here and now and focus on it. Apologize for what you are actually responsible for, and ask for even more understanding if you feel you’re being accused of something you don’t feel comfortable “owning up to”.
5. Fighting Fair: Set up practical goals to see quick wins in your marriage
The final key to fighting fair actually lies within the “what now” portion of the conversation. Even if you communicate effectively, I believe it would be considered foul play to then move forward and do absolutely nothing with the conversation you just had. The conversation portion is the blueprint, but it takes intentional action to use those blueprints to build real change in your relationship. Apologies mean nothing if not backed by action. Communicating effectively is worthless without the result being effort to change. Keep in mind that when you and your spouse are fighting or arguing… it’s because something that’s happening in your marriage isn’t working for one or both of you. Set up practical, specific, achievable goals to work on over the next week or month. It is only fair if you’re both on the same page.
6. Fighting Fair: Check in with each other at a later date
It doesn’t have to be a long or huge conversation, but after having a big conversation about needed changes, it’s important to check in to see how it’s going. It could be as simple as saying, “Hey, last week we had a conversation about me making more of an effort to stay off of technology when we spend time together. I wanted to know how you think that’s going. Are the changes we made working for you? Would you like to adjust anything?” By doing this, you’re further reinforcing the fact that you walked away from the conversation inspired to make some constructive changes. Also, it is fair for you to get honest feedback on how you are doing and it’s fair for your spouse to have a safe place to say “it actually still isn’t working for me, can we come up with some new ideas together, instead?” without having to feel like they’re nagging you or being pushy.
When it comes to love and fighting fair, the goal of “battle” cannot ever be individual victory, and it also cannot be to reach some kind of “truce” where each party walks away slightly disappointed, telling themselves they should be “happy” because at least they “compromised”. No. The goal of any disagreement in marriage ultimately should be to come to an understanding of one another with the purpose of unity, connection, and loving each other better in both the immediate and distant future.