Hitting below the belt, back stabbing, belittlement, the stink eye, throat punching, character assassination, and the good old fashioned slap in the face. I think we can all agree that none of these go-to standards are what we would call, “fighting fair”.
There is nothing more damaging to a relationship than hurtful words said during an argument that are meant to wound instead of resolve.
Notice I’m not talking about avoiding fights. Nope. Fighting is actually a really healthy relationship aspect if handled with care. It’s unfair fighting that causes all the problems.
Fighting fair is a learned trait, as human nature is to attack or run away when we are angry or hurt, so here are a few pointers to take into the ring.
1. Seek Resolution, Not Revenge
First and foremost, when going into a conflict, try to make your goal being heard and understood. If you go into the fight with the goal of proving the opposite party wrong, or hurting them the way they hurt you, they’ll get defensive or close up, and the relationship will suffer. Even if you do the “technically” correct things, if you are trying to shame them, or seek revenge in any way, it will be felt by them. Motive is everything.
2. Express How You Feel, Not What The Other Person Is
It’s tempting to tell another person how horrible they are and everything they need to change about themselves when they have been hurtful to you. But when you do this, they are unlikely to receive the criticism and turn it into self-reflection. Instead they will get hurt and defensive, and may start attacking you in return, or even close up, preventing resolution.
So instead of saying, “You’re a jerk because you ignore me when you get home from work.”
You would say, “I really miss you when you’re gone and I want to talk to you when you get home from work. It hurts when you ignore me.”
The first approach will make them want to justify their behavior, whereas the second approach will help them to empathize with you and hopefully get them to express their feelings.
3. Use Reflective Listening
The human language is relative, as we all interpret words based on our own experiences. So when you listen to someone talk, even if you are paying close attention, you may not understand what they’re saying.
In a conflict, the opposite party is trying to explain how they feel, and emotions are even more difficult to articulate than standard conversation. Relief from these emotions only comes when they feel heard and understood, so it’s extremely important to practice reflective listening.
Reflective listening is basically telling someone what you heard them say in your own words. “So what you’re saying is….”
If you explain it wrong, they may get frustrated, but at least you’ll both be aware that there’s a misunderstanding. If you hadn’t done the reflective listening, there would have been an unknown misunderstanding and that could cause further conflicts. So try to make reflective listening a habit. Don’t just say, “I understand.” Make sure you tell them what you heard them say.
4. It’s Okay To Yell, But Don’t Bully
We yell when we feel we’re not being heard, or if we get excited. It’s okay to yell in order to express yourself. “I AM SO UPSET RIGHT NOW!” or “THAT REALLY HURT ME!”
It is NOT okay to yell in order to make the other person feel small or afraid. “SHUTUP!” or anything while you’re towering over them or making fists.
This is bullying. When you do this you are threatening their feeling of safety. You’re saying, “I don’t care what the truth is, I’m bigger, so you lose.”
The same rule applies for physical harm of any kind, or hitting objects next to the person in order to intimidate. They may concede their point and act loving towards you, but you will have lost your relationship with them.
Another type of bullying is cheap shots when someone doesn’t agree with you. Demeaning their character or intelligence when they have a differing opinion is hurtful. “Well you would think that.” or “What do you know?”
This is an attempt to invalidate their argument or hurt them outright, and it may make you the winner of an argument, but it will also make you the loser of a relationship. Stay away from cheap shots altogether.
5. Swallow Your Pride, But Don’t Lie
When an argument gets drawn out and no resolution seems possible, it’s tempting to give in and lie about how you’re really feeling. This can happen easily when there’s a bully in the conversation and you’re feeling attacked, or if you reach a point of frustration where you feel like it will be impossible to be heard. It can also happen when you’re hurt and no part of your heart wants to be exposed to them.
Sometimes closing up is best for you because the opposite party is toxic and you need to guard your heart. But if it’s someone you want to have a relationship with, you need to press on. Acknowledging that you understand their point (using reflective listening) and then stating that you simply don’t agree, is sometimes the only solution. But try to explain it in different ways first. Remember, it’s not about getting them to agree with you, but rather to know and understand you. If they can know you while being different from you, that’s a great thing.
And on that note, you don’t have to convert everyone to your thinking. If you feel they’ve understood you, yet they have their own opinion, that’s okay. Allowing someone to have different opinions than you will set you up for healthier relationships where there are two strong people, instead of one strong person and the person they’ve shamed into being like them.
These are just five points to consider during arguments, but it can all be wrapped up where I started. Make your motive resolution not revenge, and you’ll be well on your way to fighting in a fair way that will build strong relationships.