Rules of Engagement: Ten Tips for Fighting Fair in Relationships

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The beginning of every new relationship feels like you’re floating on a rainbow candy cloud of endorphins. You’re both on your best behavior; and that’s easy to do because you’re starting with a clean slate. There are no past resentments or hurts – yet. However, in the course of everyday life, conflict inevitably arises and the rose-colored glasses through which you perceive your new love will fall away; and when reality does set in – and you discover that like you, your partner is a perfectly imperfect human, we want you to be equipped with some important rules of engagement to help you and your partner fight fair.

  1. Have empathy. Don’t forget that you’re fighting with your chosen partner, a fellow human with a fragile heart. Take extra care to find positive ways to disagree and to compromise.
  1. Find a neutral spot that’s not in a public place because fighting in public is uncomfortable for everyone. When you feel an argument boiling up, do yourself a favor take 5-10 deep breaths while reminding yourself that you are an adult and you are capable of ‘putting a lid on it’ until you and your partner are in a private setting.
  1. No degrading language or name-calling. We are not in grade school and name calling/degrading language only contributes to the erosion of your relationship over time. Before we speak we need to evaluate how those words will echo throughout the relationship. Remember that we have teeth and lips – two partitions – to help us choose our words carefully. Words have energy and once they are released they can never be taken back. There is an old saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ and this couldn’t be further from the truth. We can heal from physical injury, but the negative energy that is transferred with our negative words never fades. Don’t fight dirty.
  1. Do not ‘kitchen sink’ it and throw in every grievance. Remain focused on the issue at hand. When you bring in every other grievance you’ve been harboring you take the present issue off the table and dive into a sea of chaos and traps and exhaustion. Neither of you can win when one is on constant defense about issues that are simply not relevant to the current moment.
  1. Do not talk about breaking up/divorce. One argument does not a failed relationship make. Arguing fairly in relationship can actually help you grow closer to your partner. But if you keep threatening a break-up or divorce you’re planting a seed in your partners mind that you can’t be trusted to stick it out when times get tough. It’s just like the boy who cried wolf. Watch your words carefully so that you earn the reputation of someone who does what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it.
  1. Do not yell. This goes out without saying. If you find your voice getting higher because you feel like you aren’t being heard, once again, take 5-10 deep breaths and remind yourself that any message you need to relay will be received with more understanding and empathy when you speak softly. We’ve all heard the saying, ‘it’s the tone that makes the music.’ Did you know that only 7% of what we hear comes from our words? The majority of how we interpret/receive a message is via tone and body language. Don’t yell.
  1. DO not use ALWAYS and NEVER statements. No one person ALWAYS or NEVER does/doesn’t do something. It’s just not accurate to declare that any person is always a certain way. We are extraordinarily dynamic, ever changing humans who process thousands of thoughts each day. We can sometimes be a certain way, but we’re not robots and you can’t count on us to always behave a certain way, so please NEVER do this!
  1. Don’t go to bed mad. When we sleep our dreams assist us in trying to work out the issues/events of the day. Don’t take negative energy to bed, where your dreams can play all sorts of mind games with you. Let go of the events of the day when the day is over. Release all anger and resentments. If you hold on too tightly to that stuff, it will eventually manifest in physical dis-ease.
  1. Pick your battles carefully. If you’re always looking for a fight you’re probably better off staying single. You must accept that your partner will inevitably annoy, frustrate and anger you some of the time. He/she will say/do things that will make you want to hit them upside the head and rip them a new one. Don’t do that. We’re all sensitive and perfectly imperfect people. Most of us are trying our best to say/do the right thing…but we don’t always get it right. Remind yourself that not every battle is worth fighting. If you can learn to let annoying/frustrating behavior roll off your back, you will be a happier person in general and your relationship will feel more like a peaceful respite from the crazy world we live in.
  1. Practice the 72 hour rule. Before I learned this critical lesson I would get mad at my partner, and in the heat of the argument I would declare something that would have inexorable consequences for our relationship. I did this because I wanted to ‘stick it’ to him and make him feel as much pain as I was feeling in that moment. Over time I’ve learned to walk away from arguments to avoid saying something I will regret and to minimize any collateral damage. As the argument gets further behind me (this usually takes about 72 hours) my feelings/emotions simmer down and I can make better/logical/rational/mature decisions. Implementing the 72 hour rule allows you both to cool off and then re-approach the issue with a cool head and more compassion for yourself and for him/her.

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