Is it possible to be in a long-term, intimate relationship and never argue or fight? Of course not. And that’s not the goal, or even what’s needed to have a secure and happy relationship or marriage. In fact, couples who fight smart love longer. Couples who learn how to intentionally manage conflict, end up with a deeper connection.
Fighting is inevitable. Fighting well is a healthy practice that can create more closeness and intimacy between partners. But fighting poorly can lead to devastating pain, distance, and erosion of emotional safety.
Learning to fight smart banishes the old ideal of having a winner and a loser (I win, you lose) which only serves to keep us separate and makes us feel like opponents, if not enemies! FIGHTING SMART pushes us to embrace the concept of true mutuality, the idea that we are a team, and that if you lose, I do too. In other words, the only way I win is if WE win.
The great thing is that you don’t even have to go to marriage therapy to learn the four best tips to fighting smart:
1. Remember: Friend Not Foe
If your partner is in fight mode and shows signs of anger, stay calm and remember that this is your best friend, and not the enemy. Respond by relieving his/her distress first. This is not a maneuver that weakens you, and in fact it is the strongest “WE come first” ninja move.
Apologize if there is anything you’ve done to contribute to your partner’s anger or distress. If you can find nothing to genuinely apologize for, then find something in what your partner is saying that you can agree with. By responding with relief first, the fight may be over before it ever ignites.
2. Aim Above the Heart, Not Below the Belt
Don’t criticize or name-call. Anything that attacks your partner’s character will be a damaging low-blow, and will add a burst of oxygen to the hot coals. Instead of criticizing, if you have a complaint about behaviors, express it in loving, non-assaultive language. An advanced technique is to wait until a calm, argument-free time (instead of during a fight) to bring up complaints or issues you feel need to be worked on.
While accessing the loving-kindness of your heart, be sure to gaze into your beloved’s eyes. Sustained eye contact will quickly help the heat between you simmer down. If you struggle with gazing into your partner’s eyes, imagine seeing them as an adorable baby. With a gleam in your eye, imagine conveying your love to that precious little child.
3. Agree on These 4 W’s
Who? ……. Just you two. Don’t fight in public, through social media, in front of friends, or in front of family.
What? ……. Keep to the current issue. Don’t dredge up past injuries or issues. Doing so will lead you away from resolution.
When? …… Only fight during normal daytime hours. Don’t fight when you’re heading to bed. Never wake your partner up to fight.
Where? …. Only fight when you’re in person and face-to-face. Remember, you need to make good eye contact. Never fight when you’re sitting in a car, walking side by side, on the phone, through texts, or via emails.
Violating any of these agreements will increase the threat to you and/or your partner, and therefore, to your relationship. The goal is always to protect the relationship by minimizing any threat. This will keep a fight a fight, rather than converting it into a blazing WAR.
4. Keep it Petite and Playful
What makes a fight short and sweet? Just decide to keep your fight brief and to approach it in the spirit of play. By fighting playfully and only for a few minutes, you will create an opportunity to engage with your partner in a way that allows you both to have some fun, fool around, learn a thing or two, and maybe even morph from fight to foreplay. Sound better than the fights you’re so tired of having?
At the onset of your next fight, try agreeing with your partner on a limited length of time to fight (say 10 minutes). Then set one phone timer to go off one minute before your time is up and the other phone timer to go off at the end of the agreed upon length of time. When the first timer goes off, take that last minute to wind things up on a positive note and to decide on an activity to do together next. For example, when the final timer rings, you could sing your favorite song, go for a walk, cook dinner together, give each other a foot massage, dance in the kitchen, or make love. The point is that you end the playful fight after just a few minutes, then shift into doing something together that is positive and fun.
Now you know that couples who fight smart love longer, I hope you’ll practice these 4 steps the next time you and your partner get into an argument. As a marriage therapist and relationship coach, for over 20 years I’ve been helping couples learn how to fight smart. I hope this article will help you and your relationship. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. If you need more help, you can call me at (719) 544-2016.