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Marriage 101: Fight fairly

Fighting is an essential part of any relationship.

Wait! What did I say?

You read right – fighting is often necessary to make marriage and other relationships work.

So why do we do it so poorly?

Marriage 101 logo, Sanctuary Christian Counseling, Shippensburg PA

If you’ve been following along in this series, you’ll know that we’ve dealt with our top ideas for making your marriage better and then communication tips and hints. This week we’ll look at how to make those inevitable disagreements sting a bit less.

Here are our tips for fighting fair:

  • Choose your battles wisely. Is it really important enough to fight about? If you can forgive and forget it, do so. If you really can’t, then it might be worth a fight, and the fight will certainly be better if it’s done when the offense is small and recent than if you give it time to grow and fester.

  • What are you fighting about? Decide what the fight parameters are, and don’t abuse them. It’s easy to bring in every past real or imagined slight, and the problems you experienced 10 years ago into every fight, but it isn’t fair.

  • Fight quickly. Try to resolve issues within 24 hours – the Biblical “don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” If it remains unresolved after a week, ask someone to help mediate, or get help from a therapist.

  • Avoid character assassinations. Marriage researcher John Gottman says that if criticism or contempt enter into conversation, it’s a problem. Try not to attack your partner. Avoid “you are …” and focus on “I am …” Telling your thoughts and feelings is fine, but don’t assume your spouse’s.

  • Respond, don’t react. Think before you speak . Give yourself a moment to consider what you really mean and want. Don’t react quickly if you want a successful and good outcome to your quarrel.

  • Be responsible for your own feelings. Your feelings are your own. Own them. Expressing them is fine, but don’t accuse your partner of causing them. When you feel accused and want to respond defensively, instead carefully consider what of the accusation you could honestly own. Take responsibility for that, and ignore the rest.

  • Never use always. Or never. Try to avoid generalizations and globalizations – these are generally seen as unfair attacks and met with defensiveness.

  • Avoid contempt, name calling, derogatory statements. There is no place in a loving relationship, even when fighting, for such things. When these become commonplace, get help. Gottman has found a high incidence of divorce when contempt is present.

  • Physical violence is never allowed.

Call a time out if things get out of hand. My favorite time out includes the following:

1) I love you, and I want to work this out.

2) Let’s talk about this later (define place and time).

3) Separate and pray about how to resolve the conflict.

4) Return at the place/time, and pray for God’s help to come to

an agreement.

Good conflict resolution in couples is more than just being lucky. It takes strength of character and resolve to make your fights productive and not harmful, to help your relationship flourish and not whither under a fusillade of negativity. If you find yourself struggling in this or any couple area, give us a call. We are experts at helping grieving individuals, distressed teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection.

Sanctuary Christian Counseling

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257


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