Conflict Resolution: "Fair Fighting"
    "Fair Fighting”

    Conflict in relationships of whatever kind is not the problem. All couples, friends and families
    have disagreements. It's not-knowing how to effectively "argue" that creates difficulty in a
    marriage or relationship, of whatever sort.

    Fair fighting is a conflict management and resolution process, with the aim of improving
    interpersonal communication between friends, couples and family members. Everybody
    understands the need for rules in sports, but often forget them when trying to resolve
    conflict in their own situations.

    Yet, conflict doesn’t have to be unsafe, unpredictable and without purpose. People who are
    committed to following a set of rules, discover that conflict can be (and is) an opportunity
    for them to grow their “cooperation muscles.”

    Managing and handling conflict constructively can even help people develop greater close-
       ness through achieving mutual understanding, learning to cooperate, taking each other's
perspective, and resolving problems together.

           This is really important in relationships, friendships and families.

    1: No Blind-Siding
    fight. That's not fighting fair in your relationships.

    Whatever it is will build up out of all proportion and then, over the slightest, almost
    unrelated thing come bursting out and totally blind-siding the other person.

    If you are angry about something and don't try to talk about it with your spouse
    within 48 hours (preferably within 24 hours), let it go. Otherwise, you are not fighting fair.

    If your spouse doesn't want to discuss the matter, set an "appointment"
    within the next 24 hours to have your fair fight.

    2: No Degrading Language
    Fighting fair means no name calling, name-calling, insults, put-downs or swearing.

    When you intentionally injure your partner, it’s the same as saying, “You are not safe
    with me. I will do whatever it takes to protect myself or to win.” Unfortunately,
    these things; “winning and protecting” are the major causes for fighting, in the first place.

    Sports have many rules against one player intentionally injuring another one. The
    same rules must not just apply in relationships, they absolutely must be followed.

    3: No Blaming
    Blaming and accusing each other isn’t only pointless - it is absolutely counter-productive.
    That immediately puts the other on the defensive – and we all know that a good defence is
    a superior offence: it will only escalate the argument.  Blaming your spouse distracts you
    from solving the problem at hand, and totally fogs the issue.

    4: Focus On The Issue
    Be clear on what the issue is and then, both of you stick to the subject. Example: if one of
    you leaves the Utility Bill lying on the table for the other to see, and the bill later goes
    missing, you might be tempted to blame each other.

    Each might insist that the other person is disorganized, must have picked it up and put
    it somewhere else. The result is that they will take turns accusing each other of
    being absent-minded and insist   that the other just doesn't remember where s/he put it.

    But blaming each other will not accomplish anything - it won't help either of you feel
    any better. It won't strengthen your relationship at all - and it won't help you find
    the bill, or whatever the issue is that you are having a conflict about.

    Keep your conflict between the two of you.
    Don't bring in third parties like your in-laws; his/her best friend, or your children.

    Don't bring up past history, unless you’re using it as an example from the past where a
    similar thing happened that was never fully resolved – to use it as something to learn from
    –  not as a blaming thing.

    Remember to not fight to win, but to fight for your relationship
    – you are aiming for a win-win resolution.

    In situations like this, make a conscious decision that your relationship is too important to
    undermine it with blame and judgment - and personal comments.

    Focus on keeping your goodwill for each other intact and finding solutions to the problem
    instead of blaming.

    This includes watching body language. Look at one another while you speak.

    Don't interrupt during your fight; agree to use turns and let one person speak at a time.
    When one speaks, the other should be listening—really listening, not just planning their
    rebuttal. Take turns speaking and listening so that you both have a chance to say what you

    This goes right back to the rules we were taught as kids about respectful playground
    behaviour. Have you ever tried to work through a difficult issue when your spouse was
    talking over top of you and interrupting you? Remember how that felt? Consciously
    remind yourself about this when you feel an overwhelming urge to interrupt or speak your

    Try to use 'I' sentences instead of 'you' sentences.
    Don't use the words "never" and "always" in your statements to one another.

    If the two of you are not extremely angry, try to hold hands while talking during your fight.
    Be open to asking for forgiveness and being willing to forgive (each of you will have
    needed forgiveness at one point or another).

    It may be hard to forgive someone, but not forgiving can cause more harm both
    emotionally and physically to yourself and to your relationship. Holding a grudge is letting
    someone else live in your head rent free.

    6: Respect The Other Person
    Fighting fair means you don't hit below the belt; respect the other person. Putting your
    partner down or criticizing the other person’s character shows disrespect for their dignity.
    Remember that even endearing terms and pet names can be hurtful when you are using a
    sarcastic tone; and be careful how you use humour.

    Laughter is good, but teasing can be misinterpreted and end up being  hurtful.
    Do not talk in a threatening tone.
    Yelling only escalates things.
    Chances are that nothing will get resolved when your emotions are running so high.
    If you’re very angry and feel like yelling, then it’s time to step away and cool down.

    Yelling can be subjective.
    What is yelling to your spouse may not be yelling to you. Perhaps you are not tuned in
    to how you sound. Or you may have grown up in a home where family members were
    loud and passionate, and talking loud when you are upset seems normal.

    The other person's experience is the one that counts here, however. If it feels like yelling
    to that person, then you are at least raising your voice, if not yelling. Make a conscious
    effort to lower your voice.

    The meaning of your communication lies in how your message is actually landing with
    others. If you can’t tone it down because you are too upset, then it is probably best to
    take a time-out.

    8: No Use Of Force Or Threats
    Using physical force or threatening to use force (i.e. a raised fist or a verbal threat) in
    any way is not acceptable. Develop the self-discipline to set limits on your anger and
    your behaviour before you reach this level. If either of you resort to physical force and
    violence in your relationship, seek professional help.

    Use of force includes pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, punching, slapping or
    restraining. It includes punching a hole in a wall, throwing things or breaking
    something in anger. Acting out your anger in these ways violates the other person’s
    boundaries and sense of safety. Each of us has a right to be safe and free of abuse or
    physical danger in our relationships.

    Threatening to leave the relationship in the heat of an argument is manipulative and
    hurtful. It creates anxiety about being abandoned and undermines your ability to resolve
    your issues. It instantly erodes your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the

    Trust is not easily restored once it is broken in this way. It makes the problems in your
    relationship not just seem much bigger than they need to be, they will be bigger.

    9: Define Yourself, Not The Other Person
    You are only an expert of your own world at best, not the other person’s world. Use
    words that describe how you feel, and what you want and need. Don’t try and tell the
    other person what they feel, want, or believe. It’s always, so it seems, easier to analyze
    the other person than to analyze yourself.

    Interpreting your partner’s thoughts, feelings and motives will distract you from
    identifying  your own underlying issues, and you’ll virtually most certainly be wrong -
    and will immediately invite defensiveness from the other person.

    Telling the other person what s/he thinks or believes or wants is absolutely both
    controlling  and presumptuous. It is saying that you know their inner world better
    than they do.

    It is better and more productive to work on identifying your own unmet needs, feelings,
    and ways of thinking and describe these needs and feelings to the other person.

    Stay in the present and resist the temptation to use the situation as an occasion to
    bring up other issues from the past (except as examples as stated above, if they are
    going to be used as examples of similar sorts of things in the past that didn't work then,
    so that you can learn from them, now).

    Bringing up the past is discouraging, because most importantly,
    you can’t change the past (See below).

    You can only change today, and you can work, and look forward, to a better future.
    Keep your focus on what can be done today to resolve the issue at hand and go
    forward from there. If you get off-topic, on to other issues, stop yourselves and agree
    to get back on track. You can always come back to other issues later.

    If you do find yourself bringing up issues from the past it is likely because those issues
    were never resolved in the first place. Things may have happened that you and your
    spouse never really talked about. Or you may have tried to talk about it in the past but
    without fighting fair.

    This rule will be easier to follow, going forward, if you both make a commitment to
    discuss issues as they happen rather than letting them fester. See Number 4 above on
    this, too.

    * Note on positive aspect of bringing up the past: sometimes it is useful  to bring
    up an example from the past to learn from, as in: "remember that time when . . .   and
    we didn' t sit down like this to talk it out, and remember how much worse it got for a
    while? Let's never do that again - this way works so much better".

    * Or it can be used as a positive reinforcement like: "You know, every time we sit down
    like this to sort things out, like we did about (name_issue), it gets "fixed" and both of us
    feel good afterwards, not all angry or frustrated."

    11: When Necessary, Use Time-Outs
    When you violate these fair fighting rules it typically is a sign that you have already
    crossed a threshold physiologically. It is a sign that the more primitive, emotional
    centers of your brain are sending signals, and  they have begun to drown out the
    signals from the more rational parts of your brain.
    It is definitely a sign of emotional immaturity.

    What is happening at this stage is that stress hormones flood your body and self-
    preservation becomes the focus. In this fight-or-flight state, creative problem-solving
    and mutual cooperation are unlikely. You end up in an escalating argument that
    becomes more and more hostile and defensive. In fact, it is impossible to have a rational
    discussion in a climate of hostility and disrespect. This is when it’s time for a time-

    A time-out is a short break to cool off, calm down and get perspective. Think of it like
    pushing the pause button on a video. It’s an opportunity to restore calm and be more
    reflective instead of reactive.

    Use the time-out to reflect on why you feel the way you do.
    Think about how to express yourself in a positive way.
    Try to think about the other person’s feelings and point of view.
    Think things through before you speak.
    Then “push play” again and return to each other to resolve the issues calmly.

    A time-out should be at least a half-hour long (but no longer than twenty-four
    hours) – see Rule Number 1, too. It takes at least a half-hour for your body’s
    physiology to return to a normal resting state and for your thoughts to
    become less hostile or defensive. It’s surprising how different a person’s outlook
    can be after they’ve had a chance to calm down.
    Rules such as the ones above represent a completely different way of fighting for many
    people than what they were exposed to in their families of origin. Many of them grew up
    in homes where yelling, blaming, name-calling and finger-pointing were considered
    normal methods for handling disagreements.

    Because they happened so often, such methods eventually became to be seen, and feel,
    as normal; especially when they were not exposed to any other models for handling It’s
    time for you to seriously reflect on how well you “follow the rules” when you fight? You
    can use the list above, as you’re reading to evaluate your own fighting style.

    Do you “fight fair” or are you a “below the belt” fighter?
    Which of these rules do you struggle with?
    Are there changes you need to make?
    Write down:
  • any rules that you find yourself breaking in an argument.
  • any steps you could take to help you keep that rule.

    Personal Communication Skill-set needed:
    Conflict management skills
    A sense of fairness
    Putting your relationships first
    Ability to listen
    Respect for one another
    Awareness of when to apologize
    Willingness to forgive
Dawn Cove Abbey
"Roadside Assistance" For Your Journey Through Life
- Dedicated to helping people return (and maintain) sanity and decency to life -
From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman M.A © 2007-2019

Questions and comments welcomed.
    We compromise ourselves with the goal of smoothing out conflicts and fail to realize that
    we are losing our sense of self in the process. We may find that we have lost those
    qualities that were once so attractive to our partner. Differentiation involves looking
    within, gaining a firm definition of who we are, and celebrating our uniqueness.

    It is important to maintain a sense of perspective. We need to accept the fact that we all
    have anxieties and other shortcomings. This is part of the human condition. The mature
    person, however, understands that these frailties need not determine our behavior.

    Our limits should neither incapacitate nor drive us. When we honestly accept this fact
    both  in ourselves and in our partners, we can take a more balanced approach in
    dealing with each other’s limitations. The peaks and valleys of crises can be smoothed
    out. The blaming can come to an end, replaced by acceptance and love for the
    other person.

    Committing to a willingness to engage in self-confrontation. Looking within is difficult
    but it is a necessary step both in our own life development and in helping our
    relationships to grow to new levels. Self-confrontation means coming to terms with
    our own fears, anxieties, and insecurities.

    Learn to Self-Soothe in the Face of Conflict
    We blame our partners when we feel discomfort, and this tends to create distance
    within an  emotionally committed relationship. The distance, then, creates a feeling
    of further discomfort.  The clue to dealing with this dilemma is to learn how to soothe
    your own emotional pain. This  can open the way to more passion and closeness
    in your relationship.

    The art of self-soothing.
    Don’t take your partner’s behavior personally. Even if your partner doesn’t make all the
    changes that you’ve made, it should not be taken personally.

    If you and your partner are having a conflict, try some inwardly focused relaxation
    techniques. Focus on your breathing. Stop talking and try to slow your heart rate.
    Lower the  volume of your speech and work on relaxing your body.

    Put the current conflict into perspective. Think about past instances of the same type
    of conflict. What resources did you use in the past for dealing with the conflict? Think
    about how discomfort will surface again in the future - and if you learn now how to deal
    with it, you will be better off in these future instances.

    Control your behavior, even if you can’t regulate your emotions. While we may have
    difficulty in controlling our emotions, especially in the face of a conflict, we can have
    control over our behavior. Prevent yourself from saying and doing things that you will
    regret later.

    Tell yourself: I don’t have to take action on my feelings.”

    Stop the negative thinking. Our thoughts drive our feelings and behavior. When you
    find yourself engaged in negative thinking, make the change to more positive thoughts.
    Accept what is happening and then calm down.

    You may have to break contact temporarily with your partner until things cool down.
    When you are engaged in a conflict, you may need some time to get in touch with your
    self again. Look on this as a time-out, not a separation. Tell your partner that you need
    some time  alone to calm down and that you can discuss the issue better later, after
    both of you have had some space from each other.

    Self-soothing does not involve substance abuse, the abuse of food, or emotional
    regression. You need time to confront yourself and understand what your part in
    the conflict may be. This does not mean hiding out, sleeping, binge-eating, or the
    use of drugs or alcohol, which are all ways to avoid self-confrontation.
    I hope this article helps you to think about your relationship in a new way!
    (also see  Love, Infatuation Obsession etc
    and "Healthy Relationships / Families")

    Related Pages
    Trust Building
    Talking Things Out

    Klaas Tuinman
    Deerfield, NS, Canada 2010
    Meaford, ON  Rev 2019