Fight Fair

Posted: February 4, 2010 in family
Tags: , ,

“We had a fight last night.”  Few families haven’t said that.

Most of us do verbal battle in our families, often at night when we are all home, and all tired. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A certain degree of conflict is normal, even healthy! Conflict is needed to set things right when they have gone wrong.

My wife has confronted me several times in our marriage over spending too much time at work. As a result, we’ve made more space to be with each other more, to do more fun things together. Lately we’ve been walking together on the days we have off together.  Conflict, if resolved well, can bring about new peace and order in the family.

But how we will fight, now that is worth thinking about, because if we don’t fight well, in fair and productive ways, we can cause a lot of damage and even eventually ruin our relationships. Early in my marriage, I said somethings my wife still remembers thirty years later. I wish I had been able to control my mouth better.

What do families commonly fight over? They fight over significant issues of power and control in important areas of life:  money, in-laws, sex, children, homework, housework, jobs and friends. The underlying psychological reasons include our desire and need to control our lives, our instinctive drive to get our own needs met and the normal competition over the emotional and financial resources available.

In my family we have sometimes fought over how to discipline the children. Sometimes one of us has wanted to be tough on an issue and the other has wanted to be relaxed, to let things go. It’s classic; it’s the old war between the obeying the rules or relaxing and having fun, between having strict in discipline or creating a relaxed, easy going atmosphere. The truth is we need both in the family. Too much just-leave-them-alone and you get chaos and rebellion; too much hammering of the policy and the bedroom turns into a military barracks.

As a result it’s good to scrap about discipline once in a while, and to come to some middle ground between the police academy and an unspervised grade school playground.

Whatever the outcome, conflict should not be seen as something to avoid. The good family is not the family that never fights, but the one that knows how to fight in fair, appropriate ways. 

Here are a few rules for fighting. You’ll recognize some of these. They are borrowed, currently part of the common language and knowledge of good conflict resolution.

 1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The goal is to “Get it,” to really listen in such a way that you can truly understand how the other person feels and what they think.

2. Go for win-win outcome. That means you come to a solution both parties can live with.  Avoid win-lose solutions, where someone dominates the others. To help, remember that you are fighting for your relationship, not for a personal victory.

 3. Stay under control. Be kind.  Work hard not to be abusive, mean, cold, hard, inflexible. Giving full vent to your anger can cause a lot of damage.

 4. Give people space and time to process possible solutions if they want or need that. It’s great to work things out on the spot, before you go to bed, before it can build up. But sometimes, other people just need time to cool down and think a little. In that space they may even self-correct.

 5. Stick to the point. Avoid bringing in a bunch of other unresolved issues, and avoid personally attacking the character of the person you are disputing with.

 6.  Support your spouse in front of your kids. If you don’t agree with your spouse, set aside some space and time to talk it through later. Parents who are united can do a super job of dealing with kid issues.

 7. Avoid arguing late in the evening, when you are tired, when you have the least control.

 8. Ask for forgiveness, and be willing to forgive.

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