You’re dying to let loose and say what you really think but the words aren’t pretty so you’re biting your tongue. Whatever it is – you don’t say it. Because if you do – you can’t take it back.
Fighting fair is worth fighting for.
We all know that we can’t always “play nice.” But we certainly can try. And that includes the way we deal with conflict – bickering over the little things, warring over significant ones – or dealing with both, like adults.
If you value your child, your spouse, your friends – of course you want to express what you’re feeling and make your points. But you also don’t want to damage the relationship. And if you don’t fight fair, you will.
But it’s not always simple.
Winning the Point, Losing the Game?
Sometimes, we’re afraid to address issues head on. We may not have the communication skills, the emotional fortitude, the confidence. It may be the wrong time or the wrong place. But when resentments build and you haven’t given them an appropriate airing, when anger flairs disproportionately in the heat of the moment, when you’re tempted to take that jab below the belt – think twice.
Think three times.
You may get what you’re after in the short term, but in the long run, the relationship will suffer.
In order to fight fair – to express your feelings in a constructive way – you must balance the need to win with the consequences if you don’t, and just as importantly, what you have to lose in the way you pursue your position.
Fighting Fair With Your Kids
What tween or teen doesn’t know exactly how to push our hot buttons? Kids know our vulnerabilities as we know theirs; they want what they want, without necessarily understanding the full impact of angry words or defiant behaviors.
It has taken plenty of practice for me not to overreact when my temper gets the better of me. All-out arguments with my sons have been rare, but tiffs are routine and even the most patient parent will crack when worn down. And of course, regret it.
That’s when remembering how vulnerable they are is essential. Words can wound, and do so permanently. And of course, parents are the model that children rely on for their mode of handling disagreements.
So I’ve taught myself to stop, breathe, and choose my words carefully. I’m far more likely to fight fair, knowing full well that we can’t take back what we say – once we’ve said it.
Fighting Fair With Your Spouse or Partner
What about butting heads with the one you love or the one you married? Isn’t it usual to have disagreements, the occasional sources of friction, or to fight over key differences where each of you believes you’re right?
You want your partner to agree to another child, to an expensive vacation, to a relocation. If you’re convinced it’s the best thing not only for yourself but for the marriage – does that give you the right to pull out all the stops and fight with everything you’ve got – fair or otherwise?
Marriage, Divorce, And Everything In Between
Friction is unavoidable in every relationship. In my experience, fair dealings in disagreements means retaining your partner’s respect, which is certainly vital in a thriving relationship. You’re working through a difference in viewpoints as a team.
When one of the spouses ceases to fight fairly, regardless of the reasoning, the damage can be irreversible. Trust is broken, and you begin to doubt what you hear and what you see.
And isn’t there a fine line between exercising your will any way you can, and simply being a bully?
At what point does coercive behavior become abusive?
Won’t the consequences eventually catch up to you – as you realize that your partner values his or her “way” more than the relationship or a mutually beneficial solution? Is something more going on when the marriage is increasingly about criticism, or a need for control, or growing indications of selfishness?
Infidelity and Other Transgressions
Looking for an example of what not to do?
If your partner has had an affair – a one-time event, for example, which has been discussed and dealt with – don’t throw it back in his or her face every time you get the chance. Infidelity seems like a particularly searing sort of betrayal, and rebuilding trust may be slow and painful. But if you bring up the subject over and over, is that fair?
How long do you think you can sustain a relationship held together by guilt?
We all make mistakes in judgment – some worse than others. Hopefully we learn, and genuinely regret the pain we’ve caused others. Even if we can’t forget, forgiving and moving forward means fighting fair and playing fair.
Do You Fight Fair?
I’m not sure I ever explicitly talked to my sons about fighting fair, but I hope that I modeled it. If I stepped out of line by overreacting, I generally apologized for losing my cool even if I stood by my response. I did not belittle or manipulate in my words or my behaviors, and if one of them hurt me inadvertently, I let him know, and explained why.
Believe me – there is no “perfect” in any of this, and I’m no exception. But I know first-hand what it is to be on the receiving end of direct and indirect criticism, of subtle manipulation and outright bullying. I do not want that for my sons; I do not want that in any relationship. That keeps me vigilant in terms of my own behavior, and equally so in observing how others may deal with me.
As for fighting fair with your spouse – it isn’t only what you say and how you say it; the silent treatment is cruel in its own way, and a passive-aggressive method of getting the other to do what you want. It is an indirect and unhealthy expression of anger, and hardly the stuff of fair resolution to a differing viewpoint.
Manipulation, Control, Passive-Aggressive Behaviors
What about withholding affection, or withholding sex, or withholding necessary money required to keep the household going? What about perpetually turning to using passive-aggressive phrases that dismiss or confuse the concerns of your partner, or undermine her confidence?
Is this really how you wish to conduct your relationship? Is this really what you want as a model for your children?
How to Fight Fair
Fighting fair preserves relationships, while addressing the inevitable and necessary handling of conflict.
Want to fight fair? Here are some methods that have worked for me.
- Manage your emotional state – take a breath; walk away and come back; if you can’t speak it, then write it – put your concerns on paper and communicate in that fashion.
- Be careful what you say – choose your words without using name-calling or pulling in past events that are emotionally charged and unrelated to the issue at hand.
- Pay attention to the way you are saying what you are saying – your tone, the place you choose to give airing to your disagreement, and don’t do it in front of your children!
- Be equally attentive to what you don’t say and don’t do. Don’t wield your silence like a weapon. Or your body (affection, sex). Or your responsibilities to the family unit, for that matter.
- Avoid manipulative behaviors – “if you don’t do this then I will do that.” This is bullying, pure and simple. It does not belong in any relationship if you value its healthy continuation.