How to Fight so that Everyone Wins

Will power.

Best understood as an emotion to avoid eating Ben and Jerry’s.

Not relatable to arguing with your husband ... or is it?

Fighting in a relationship is normal, and actually quite healthy. According to Esther Perel, psychotherapist, and author of Mating in Captivity, "fighting is a must." A must because fighting isn't actually the issue. It's the repair that matters.

Where your will power steps in is when you feel the need to say something just-to-piss-him/her-off. Something that hurts, that digs deep and will cause a reaction. Will power is your strongest asset so that you don't say or do something you will regret.

So go ahead, fight*. Fight all you want. But work on the repair more than anything else. It's the mending of the battle that creates harmony and sets an excellent example for the kids.

Here are ten ways to keep your arguments in check so that everyone wins.

1. Learn each others fighting style

Uppercut, jab, or left hook. What's your superpower? Mine is the jab. Others might not be any of these at all, or something worse: the silent treatment!  Dang!

Most women hate it. They want to talk and talk and get it all off their chest in the moment. Men often want to retreat and come back to the conversation when they have finished processing their stuff. Learning each other's fighting style is a must if you're going to get to the solution faster and with less ambiguity.

When you two are in a great state, sit down, and discuss how you process arguments, fights, or disagreements best. I learned (the hard way) that the immediate silent treatment only fuels the fire. I need something, anything, that is an acknowledgment of my position. It doesn't mean he has to agree with me, just that he heard me. From that point, I can wait somewhat patiently for him to meet me at the table.

I have seen other couples write codes (like marriage laws) around these issues. Like no fighting in front of the kids, no disagreements in public, only discuss specific issues after dinner, only argue with a therapist on call… and more.

If your battles aren't helping you win the war, then you need to discern each other's patterns and create steps for your fights. If this, then that. If that, then this.

2. Step back when needed

Come back to an argument when your blood has finished boiling. Say something like "I need a moment, so I am going for a walk. We can chat upon my return." Yes, it can be SO tough.

I am an in-the-moment-fighter. I like to get to a solution fast so that I won't let it run through my head all day or night. I certainly can't sleep if unresolved issues are flying around like bats in a cave. In my case, I usually just ask for a hug or kiss to know that we are OK.

So go ahead, fight. But work on the repair more than anything else. It's the mending of the battle that creates harmony and sets an excellent example for the kids.

3. Stick to the issue

If many subjects are circling around in a conversation, choose one and solve it before moving on to the next. Write your 'issues to be discussed' in your weekly meeting agenda and schedule a decent time to discuss it. In-the-moment conversations aren't necessary all the time. Jot down a few notes and come back to it when the time is right.

4. Write it down

If a conversation doesn't solve it, write it down! Journal it or jot notes down on your computer or phone. You don't necessarily have to share this with your partner; it's best used as a way to 'get your thoughts out on paper.' If you do this long enough, you will be able to see common themes or patterns in your arguments.

Husband refuses to take the trash out? Maybe he should be assigned the dishwasher instead. Wife refuses to pick up the dog poop? Perhaps she needs more alone time?  Those things alone aren't worth fighting over, but there is a reason beneath it that needs addressing. As you continue your journaling practice, make a special section for your marriage/partner/relationship. Make a note of the things that make you happy or angry, sad, or frustrated.

5. Assess the deeper issue

Most quarrels have nothing to do with the thing at hand. When I was 8-months pregnant with my first son, I had a massive fit and threw everything from the nursery down the stairs (How disheartening! I spent HOURS labeling and organizing that damn closet.) My husband panicked. I threw insult after insult at him, which he dodged with ninja-like precision. But when it was all done, and with his grace, we both realized it had nothing to do with him even though he was the closest and easiest target.

Do you know the saying "the straw that broke the camels back"? Yeah, that. Things compound. And that compound effect is what we fight about. If you don't know what I mean, go and watch that hilarious YouTube video about the nail in the woman's head.

Oh, and why I threw an entire nursery down the stairs … my husband wanted to take his new car for a drive with friends at 8 pm, and it wasn't part of our scheduled programming. Haha, like seriously Renée?! #pregnancyhormones

6. Meet them in the middle

"Baby, why don't you just meet me in the middle?" (singing). Compromise "is typical in a marriage." Blah blah blah. I call it investing, rather than compromise but the point is, you got to give a little to get a little. It can be a gamble at times, but what else were you expecting? Perfection? (Honey if you need that, then get your ass to the ice cream shop and order yourself some chocolate chunk caramel vanilla sh*t, 'cause nothing is perfect except for that.)

Invest! Invest! Invest! ...into your relationship. This means giving up a little something now with the confidence that you will get a lot more later. Money doesn't grow on trees, and nor does the solution to the perfect fight. Be OK with knowing that you won't always be right and that you have to walk to the line just as much as your partner.

7. Don't push on the bruise

As in don't hit below the belt. Never use insults to make them feel worse, or to force a reaction. It can be difficult in the moment as we have these default ways in trying to make the other person feel worse if it appears they aren't respecting your side of the issue.

8. Don't deflect

Avoid diverting from the issue at hand because you don't feel like talking about it anymore, or if you're going around in circles. If that's the case, simply say "Can we discuss this tomorrow at 5 pm? I don't feel as though we are coming to any conclusion at the moment." Deflecting is different than asking for permission to pause the conversation, because it is an avoidance tactic. And the more you avoid having those serious conversations, the worse they become.

Deflecting is the equivalent to not weeding your garden. The longer you put it off, the quicker the weeds take over. If you ‘nip it in the bud’, then you will not only avoid a bigger argument, you can be more proactive in your relationship.

9. Commit to improvement

Fighting is often caused by several underlying issues and not just one. To get ahead, pick one, and both of you commit to improving yourselves. Each partner should have clear expectations of what they need to work on, how they will improve that thing and a timeline as to when they will make the change.

10. Sensor your fights

Some experts say not to fight in front of your kids. Others suggest it's OK, as long as it's not heated, abusive, or an accusation and that you come to a solution in the same moment. I am a believer of both; it all depends on what the argument is about.

Never fight in front of your kids if it's about them or something very worrisome like an illness, a death in the family, or a possible separation. It is OK to disagree if it's about something like unmet expectations, not cleaning up after ourselves, etc.  Again, state your opinion, discuss it, then conclude together.

11. Shelve it and move on

Don't circle back to a resolved issue to make a point. It's the stupidest thing you can do to try to get your way. What was settled in the past is settled! Don't touch it or use it as ammunition for your argument. It never works and makes almost every situation worse. If you're a perpetual opener-of-past-resolved-issues-crazy-person no one will ever want to hear your side of the case or your opinion because they'll feel (and know) they won't ever ever ever resolve any issue with you. Move on!

"Couples in satisfying long-term relationships are able to remember that, no matter how angry they may be, life will continue after today," explains psychotherapist Vikki Stark, director of the Sedona Counselling Center of Montreal. So fight, get it off your chest, but be fair. Today may be tough, but tomorrow is a whole new day with so many new opportunities.

*Note: verbal and physical abuse is abuse. It is unacceptable, dangerous, and never something to do in front of your children. I urge you to seek immediate help or call the authorities if you feel you, or someone you know is being abused.

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