Fair Fighting

During this week of our Lord’s passion to redeem our weaknesses and faults, I thought it might be fitting to offer some insights about fair fighting. Read through these and, with your spouse, choose what your disagreement rules will be. Or write your own!



Fight like the world’s happiest couples from The Exceptional 7 Percent by Gregory K. Popcak:

  • The argument must move things along to a mutually satisfying solution. Unhealthy if it never resolves anything.
  • There are certain lines the couple simply doesn’t cross no matter how heated their discussion gets. Disallow anything that makes one defensive or quickly escalates the argument.
  • Maintain your own dignity. No matter how crazy you think your spouse is acting, you must be able to be proud of your own conduct at the end of the day.
  • In the couple’s overall relationship, there is a five to one ratio of positivity to negativity. You must be five times more complimentary than critical.
  • Is this an argument worth having? Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Is it about something that will stop you fulfilling your values, ideals, or goals?
  • Begin with the end in mind. What do I need to know from my spouse to feel better about this problem? What do I think needs to happen so we can avoid this in the future? What changes will I have to make to solve this problem?
  • Take time outs to cool down if necessary. If you start to think your spouse is the problem, take a break to think more lovingly.
  • When things heat up, practice “red hot loving” by doing something loving for your mate—a touch, compliment, or service that reminds you both you are partners in problem solving.
  • Look for the positive intention behind your spouse’s negative behavior and work with spouse to find more respectful alternatives to meet needs.
  • Never show contempt whether gesture or words. This always escalates the disagreement. One of the worst acts of contempt is threatening divorce. It undermines your spouse’s ability to trust you, damages the security of your relationship, and offends the dignity of your marriage.
  • Don’t nag. Solve! Set a deadline for something to get done and if it doesn’t, call for help to get it done or do it yourself as an act of love. Your spouse’s help is a gift that should be freely given but, like any gift, you have no right to demand it.
  • Don’t parent each other. Never deny what your spouse wants to do, but freely negotiate the how and when.
  • L.O.V.E. Look for the positive intention. Omit contempt. Verify what was meant. Encourage each other throughout the conflict.


Judith Viorst suggests rules of engagement for fighting in Grown-Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known, and Still Need to Know About Being Married:

  • Never irretrievably lose it. Refrain from physical violence, intimidation, or coercion, as well as remembering words can damage the heart and soul. All of us have the capacity to choose to exert some restraint, to choose to control ourselves.
  • Keep in mind that we probably won’t always feel the way we currently feel.
  • Accept responsibility when we’re responsible.
  • Don’t practice psychiatry on our spouse without a license. Or even if we do, in fact, have a license.
  • If possible, try to laugh.
  • Don’t wait too long before saying what is bothering us to avoid getting meaner as our grievances are bottled up.
  • Know in advance what you want from the fight. “I’m upset; here’s why I’m upset; here’s what I want.”
  • No fair reproaching our spouse with, “If you really loved me…”
  • Stick to the point and stick to the present. Don’t draw on the past and on every other grievance you’ve ever had.
  • Never attack an Achilles heel. We know each other’s most sensitive vulnerabilities. Attacking them may be forgiven but probably not forgotten.
  • Don’t overstate your injuries.
  • Don’t overstate your threats. Ultimatums might backfire.
  • Don’t cite authority, “everybody says,” or the latest magazine article.
  • Don’t just talk; we have to listen, too.
  • Respect the feelings as well as the facts.
  • Sometimes simply agree to disagree.
  • When finished fighting, don’t continue to snipe.
  • Compromise rather than going for a win. How can we win if the person we love the most loses?



Let’s review John Gottman and Nan Silver’s recommendations from Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last:

  • At a most basic level, we all want love and respect in a relationship.
  • Complaints are specific and about one behavior. They can enhance a relationship if spouses are open to growth.
  • Criticism, on the other hand, attacks the person.
  • Contempt attacks the person with an intent to hurt.
  • Defensiveness, or the poor-me stance, relinquishes our ability to accept the challenge of self improvement for the sake of the ones we love.
  • De-escalate a disagreement by reaffirming your admiration for your spouse, interjecting healthy humor, touching affectionately, stepping back to make a comment about your current feelings, or trying to look at things from your spouse’s point of view.
  • When we want to turn our backs (stonewall) is when we must keep turning back toward each other.


And from the greatest Source, two Bible verses to ponder:

  • Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you? (1 Corinthians 7:16 NLT)
  • These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)


Throughout Lent we strive to improve ourselves. May we also improve our relationships so our example brings grace to all who know us.



PS – On Friday I will offer an additional post particularly for those who have suffered the heartbreak of divorce.



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