Generally, my kids get along pretty well. Despite their three year age gap they seem to be one of each other’s preferred companions. However, just as all siblings, they also know how to push each other’s buttons and can get screaming mad at one another as well. They know what to say to hurt each other; they know the sensitive spot, and the vulnerable place.
Over the years I’ve stressed to both of them how important it is to protect the trust and bond they have. Making sure not to take public things that are private to the other, things they have the privilege to know precisely because of that trust. No getting mad at one other and then telling those private things to people at school. No revealing the vulnerable places of the other in the ‘heat of the moment.’ I try to instill in them the seriousness of protecting their relationship because if they lose their trust for each other they may forever lose the beautiful bond they have.
What I am trying to help them understand in their relationship is equally true in marriage. The relationship needs to be intentionally protected and part of that protection comes in learning how to fight.
The romantic ideal tells us that those who are in love, or have found their soul-mates, won’t fight or at least won’t fight much. The reality is that you will fight; in fact I would question the healthiness of the relationship if you didn’t. There should always be some amount of friction in order to keep each other growing.
If the reality is that you are going to fight, then the important and truly romantic thing to do is to learn how to fight fair.
When my kids start in on each other I am quick to step in when I see their fighting turn toxic. My son has a tongue that can drip acid and my daughter has an attitude that blows things off without thought as to how important the issue might be to the other person. Left unchecked they both could do lasting damage to the self-confidence and identity of each other.
The first rule of fighting fair is to know your natural way to fight. My son fights with his mouth, my daughter with drama, I fight by withdrawing and having an icy demeanor, and Andy will shut down and escape. We develop these methods based on a combination of our personality, and what was modeled for us, as well as coping mechanisms we had for dealing with the environment we were raised in. We have to recognize, own, and admit how we are naturally wired to react before we can begin to take steps to grow in this area.
The second rule is a huge one—no name-calling. You absolutely must take a stand to not allow this. Once name-calling starts all hope for a healthy resolution to an issue is done…at least for now. Name-calling generalizes the issue making it about the other person’s ‘being’ instead of keeping the focus on what the other is ‘doing.’ At this point both parties need to disengage from the fight in order to keep from saying things they can’t take back.
Early on in our marriage I called Andy a ‘prick.’ He was very hurt and offended…and the name-calling did nothing to help resolve the issue. Thankfully he has never called me a name because I know whatever words he may have chosen would have rolled around in my brain and heart doing damage for years. Once you are to the point of name-calling your argument has lost its credibility.
Part of learning to fight fair is to know when you need to stop. We have only so much capacity to take in and process information – especially when it relates to things we do, ways we think, and who we are. So rule three is to know when we have hit the wall of the other person’s ability to listen, and stop talking.
I tend overkill on words, so this strikes a strong chord with me. The cue my husband has reached that wall is when he slightly raises his voice, a very uncommon thing for him, and he uses some phrase implying that he doesn’t know how to make me happy. When we get to the point where he feels like it “doesn’t matter what he does, he can’t win,” I know saying anything else is pointless. He needs time to process and I need to reevaluate how and what I’m trying to communicate.
My son, who can handle more talking and longer explanations than most, shows he’s done listening by the glassed over look in his eye. My daughter is the hardest for me because I have about three sentences before I sound like the adults on Charlie Brown to her. I have to remind myself often of the quote I once read which says, “The more words we use when things are going poorly the less effective we become.”
The last rule I’m going to give you is probably the least romantic idea of all—there will always be a few issues that never completely resolve. We are messy, fault-filled people, married to other messy, fault-filled people. Real love learns to accept those things in each other that are not as we might wish. And sometimes what you learn is that what you wish was different is exactly what you need to help you grow!
Real love fights but learns how to fight fair.
What is your natural way to fight?
How effective has this method been at helping to resolve issues in healthy ways?
How has name-calling impacted your fighting?
Have there been times you should have stopped and walked away from the fight for awhile?