Here are 13 signs you and your partner may not be fighting fair, along with suggestions on how to handle disagreements more constructively.
You may be fighting unfairly if . . .
1) You try to solve feelings. Feelings are not problems to be fixed. Feelings aren’t wrong and they don’t have to be justified. Feelings can change and evolve. It is possible to have even seemingly contradictory feelings at the same time. All of that is normal and healthy.
Instead: Listen for each other’s feelings and honor them. Ask what is really upsetting your partner. Perhaps it is an issue of fairness or feeling not heard or wanted. If you don’t resist or block your partner’s feelings, he or she can more easily get to the heart of the issue.
2) You resort to appeals from your cheering section. Saying “all my friends would agree with me” or “I don’t know anyone who would think the way you do” creates isolation. Your friends aren’t in this discussion and other people aren’t going to solve this problem for you. This is between you and your partner. Only you two can solve the disagreement.
3) You use absolutes and imperatives. “Always,” “never,” “should” and “must” are unrealistic are often untrue. Such words can escalate tension and pressure.
Instead: Stick to specifics rather than sweeping generalities. State your values but not as absolutes or imperatives. Your values may be important to you but that doesn’t mean your partner has to share your exact values. By the same token, you don’t have to share your partner’s feelings or values but it is important to hear them. Many arguments are solved when one or both partners realize that, even if their partner has a different viewpoint, their partner cares about them and wants to know how they feel.
4) You get personal. Instead: Argue about issues, not each other. Don’t characterize, name call, accuse or tell the other person why they are saying or doing things.
5) You see your partner as an adversary. In the heat of arguing we sometimes feel partners are adversaries. Instead: view your partner as an ally and teammate. In so doing, seek to allow differences of opinion and for either of you to adjust your position or change your mind.
7) You speak for the other person. Instead: Speak for yourself. Say your feelings, desires and priorities. Let your partner voice his or hers. Don’t speak for your partner or assume you know what she or he feels.
8) You both look outward, not inward. Instead: Look in the mirror. Much can be gained by being willing to see your part in a disagreement. Even more can be gained if, after introspection, you earnestly apologize.
9) You avoid or misunderstand anger. Anger is a natural, hard-wired emotion when we feel threats or injustice. That doesn’t mean anger should be expressed in a threatening or destructive way; it should not. But if your partner is angry, recognize there is some way she or he may feel unsafe, intimidated or taken advantage of. Ask your partner to help you understand what made him or her so angry.
Also, sometimes anger isn’t the whole story. There may be other feelings underneath like fear, sadness or grief. If you block anger, you won’t be able to get to those feelings. And those feelings may be closer to the heart of the matter and need to be reckoned with to resolve the disagreement in the most healthy way.
10) You defend your positions without hearing your partner’s. Instead: Be curious. Ask for clarification. Try to fully understand what your partner is feeling and saying, and why. Listening doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with your partner or are promising to do anything different. There is no harm in listening, and a lot to be gained. If you are openly listening, the disagreement is proceeding forward.
11) You don’t talk about solutions. If you have a solution in mind, voice it. Don’t just complain and leave the complaint out there. Ask for what you want rather than complaining about what you don’t want. Think in advance about what you want and what kind of solution would be acceptable to you. If you get it, be sure to take yes for an answer.
12) You get stuck in arguing about details. (Yes you did. No I didn’t. Did too. Did not.) Instead: Get to the heart of the matter.
One of the biggest opportunities in a conflict is to identify the core issue. It may be feelings, values, desires, a perceived or actual loss, perceptions, ideas, positions and/or principles. Each issue may merit a slightly different approach and have different possible solutions.
13) You focus on who is right and who is wrong. Instead: Focus on what is right for the relationship, the situation, and those around you rather than on who is right. It’s also okay to simply agree to disagree. Sometimes this is a perfectly fine solution.
Though these 13 guidelines can be helpful, when a disagreement starts and feelings heighten if may be hard to keep them in mind. If that happens, try to remember one thing: You care about your partner and do not want to do harm.
More important than whether you fight is how you resolve disagreements and move forward. Finding ways to reconnect after a fight and letting your partner know you care about and value her or him is essential. Apologies can go a long way.