He said what?
July 7, 2010 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Fair relationship fighting. What are your rules to keep relationship fights fair and above-the-belt?

What are your rules - either internal to you or agreed to by yourself and your SO - for fair fighting in your relationship? What has worked for you to make sure that your arguments/discussions/disagreements/fights with your SO stay fair, productive, above-the-belt??
posted by elquien to Human Relations (53 answers total) 124 users marked this as a favorite
No person attacks and no bringing up history.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:58 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Abolish sentences beginning, "If you really loved me, ..."
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:01 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

No name calling, no crying, and stay focused on what you're hoping to accomplish. If you can't hope to accomplish anything by arguing about an issue, you're better off dropping it, at least for the time being.
posted by orange swan at 9:11 PM on July 7, 2010

Oftentimes, if you feel that you've "won" a serious argument, neither of you did.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

My SO and I decided early on that we are okay with taking breaks in an argument if one or the other or both of us is too tired or confused or upset to keep talking. This means that sometimes we do in fact go to bed angry, but our fights are much more reasonable than they were when we were continuing to argue past the point of exhaustion.
posted by bewilderbeast at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

You get to argue with plenty of people in this life, but you only get to love a few. Always keep that in mind and you might find yourself more predisposed towards kindness. I know I do.
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:13 PM on July 7, 2010 [20 favorites]

Obviously your mileage will vary with this, but I'll throw it out there anyway.

Don't force the conversation to happen. I know people say that you shouldn't go to bed angry. But if I'm purposefully not answering or even talking to you it's because I know that if I do, I'll end up saying something I'll regret. So just let me have my time.

There is a point where it's just stupid and the conversation needs to happen. But really, if you can tell I'm like that then it might be a good idea to give me some time to cool off.
posted by theichibun at 9:14 PM on July 7, 2010

Suzette Elgin, in "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense": when someone makes a statement beginning "If you really loved me....." wait until they're finished speaking and then say, with great concern, "Honey, how long have you felt like I don't love you?" If you're feeling particularly unfriendly, you can phrase it "You know, honey, it's common for someone your age to start to think that people don't love them, but I certainly still do."

Boy, NOBODY uses that phrase around our house anymore!

Sorry I can't help with your question. Married for 30 years, but we dramatically shout, cry, call names, storm out of rooms, bring up the past, predict a loveless future -- I don't think we've ever had a fight that was above the belt. Then it's not a fight, it's a discussion.
posted by kestralwing at 9:16 PM on July 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Keep your eye on the ball.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:22 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

try to mentally win their side of the argument.
don't consider a fight "won" or "lost"
go to bed angry! don't stay up and fight when you're tired.
posted by nadawi at 9:33 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

If something is bothering you, you're expected to bring it up then - not weeks later when you need ammo in an argument.

Hurtful things get pointed out as such. When one of us is getting mean, the other says so.

Either party can request a stop to the argument at any time.

Not a rule per se, but understanding the subtext helps keep things productive. Arguments are, by definition, emotional rather than rational. Strong emotion negatively affects intelligence. For me, arguing is a non-productive signal that you need to discuss something when you cool down.

So what are the emotions at play? Understanding the other person's perspective helps a bunch - but understanding your own emotional motives can be even more crucial. Often, they have nothing to do with the rational explanations you give yourself for your behavior.
posted by richyoung at 9:38 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

All is fair in love and war.
posted by Flood at 9:42 PM on July 7, 2010

Never argue when you are feeling any of the HALT feelings: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Save it for later when you're no longer any of these things. Something like 99% of my fighting with others have come out of just one--feeling hungry. I'm completely irrational when I'm hungry, and I know it!

The classic beginning sentences with "I feel angry/upset/etc. when you did this," and said calmly, tends to work in most arguments. When it works well, it leaves the other person an opening to acknowledge and address the specific problem without feeling attacked personally. Asking what lead up to something that upset me can also help, because it helps me understand why and where the other person is coming from.

However, this does not work as well when the other person does takes it personally, though funnily enough this was not in a romantic relationship, but in a workplace setting.
posted by so much modern time at 9:53 PM on July 7, 2010 [78 favorites]

My partner and I are the stereotypical lesbians who talk EVERYTHING out and involve each other in EVERY decision. We fight rarely, but it happens. Here are some unspoken rules of our fights.

If you didn't bring something up when it happened, you better have a REALLY good reason for bringing it up now. Try to keep the past in the past.

No "you never" or "you always." More like "Sometimes you" or "I often feel that you..."

If someone sincerely apologizes and the apology is accepted, it's over. You can't bring that thing up again, unless the current fight is about the same thing. So no, "this is like that time you..." although "You said this wouldn't happen again and it has" is probably ok.

If someone gets mean, the other can point that out. Meany is expected to rein it in.

Crying happens, there's nothing we can do to avoid it sometimes. If one partner starts crying that doesn't mean that the fight is over, but maybe it can be a reminder that you do love each other and care about each other's pain. Fights usually get less mean after one of us starts crying.

Fight tonight, get it out, and debrief tomorrow. We pretty much always debrief after arguments, once some time has passed and emotions have cooled.

I'm quicker and meaner than she is, although she holds grudge forever. I like to get things out NOW and she likes to be alone and talk about it in a few days. This is the biggest problem of our fights - our own personal preferences. Not much you can do about that but try to be understanding. I know that my quickness can become cruelty and I try to rein it in, she knows that she stores up grievances until they burst her and she tries not to do this. Talk about your fights - not just about the thing you were arguing over but about the fight itself - and you can learn how to avoid them and how to make them less hurtful.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:00 PM on July 7, 2010 [18 favorites]

I used to have a game with a friend, where at any point during an argument, one person could call "Switch," and you had to switch sides and argue the other person's point.

You usually realized that your argument sounded pretty stupid more often than not.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:01 PM on July 7, 2010 [39 favorites]

Came in to talk about the HALT thing, saw that someone else already got to it. This is our one big rule, especially in that when I'm any one of those things, I become completely irrational.
posted by SNWidget at 10:02 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

A couple of notes from my own relationship.

1. In past years, if my husband was upset with me about something I did, I would take it really badly, even if it was presented in the nicest way possible. I would instantly get prickly and defensive, simmer for hours, shut him down, and refuse to discuss it.

One day I had a big lightbulb moment when it dawned on me that he's always been the type to let the truly unimportant stuff slide, even if it drives him crazy. So if he was trying to bring up something that he was upset about, it was usually completely warranted. I was stung and taken aback by the realization that I was truly in the wrong here, that it wasn't just a difference of opinion.

It was a big turning point when I realized that I needed to get the hell over myself, admit I'd been a jackass, and do what was needed to let him know that he'd been heard and that I was trying. I just hated for him to be upset with me, and for some reason, some crazy part of my brain thought that shutting down the discussion would make it go away faster than addressing the problem head-on.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, keep a huge dose of humility on hand during arguments and take as needed.

2. The other thing to which I owe much of our peaceful existence is that we never, ever resort any of the mechanisms that escalate it from a discussion to a fight. For us, that's no raising voices, stomping feet, throwing things, and, for the love of all that is holy, absolutely no passive-aggressive remarks. As long as we stay far away from those, we are able to remain in discussion mode indefinitely. Discussion mode is safe, and where issues get resolved, unlike fights.
posted by anderjen at 10:06 PM on July 7, 2010 [15 favorites]

As odd as it sounds, I try and think of arguments as battles, and the relationship as the war. Whenever I'm in a situation where I'm tempted to go for broke to 'win' a particular point, I stop and ask myself this:

1. What do I gain if I 'win' this argument?
2. What lengths will I have to go to in order to 'win'?
3. Does the importance of (1) justify the potential hurt or damage to our relationship?

I suppose my realisation was that it was fine to fight about things, and it was inevitable that such fights had the capacity to upset or hurt either party in the short or indeed the long term. What I strive to do now is only fight to the death if the issue is incredibly important. Otherwise, your'll end up causing more harm to each other by *how* you argue than you would hope to avoid by raising the issue in the first place.

Or to return to my first analogy, remember that there's not much point in winning the battle but losing the war.
posted by tim_in_oz at 10:17 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

My personal rule is don't say things that cause the other person want to abandon the argument.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:24 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

We're both loud, emotional, dramatic, quick to lash out in a bad mood and easily carried away: we get fight-or-flight. So this what we've learned through the years to "fight well".

No absolute statements ("never", "always", etc.).

Apologizing as soon as you say/do something unfair/overmuch (loud voice, personal attack, past history, slammed door) and you've had a few moments to realize you crossed the line. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to shout at you, I just feel really defensive right now."

Admitting when you're wrong if you know you are, and your SO carefully makes sure to accept your admission without rubbing it in your face.

Explicitly expressing that you have really heard and are attempting to understand the other person's point-of-view - basically being super-careful to show you are not automatically dismissing their thoughts on the matter at hand.

Keeping in mind even in the rough moments that you two are a partnership and your fundamental bond holds you together even when you're arguing; therefore, you need to be working with other, not against each other, as much as you can (making sure you default to trusting your partner, that they are not working to undermine you, if they have not proven you otherwise before).

Advanced techniques: humor, and physical affection.

Humor to defuse the tension and get you both on the same side again for a moment, at which point you can reapproach your disagreement more dispassionately.

And physical affection - when my SO stops me, looks me in the face, and gives me a deep hug while saying "whoa, whoa, hold up, I love you, I want to resolve this with you, let's breathe a minute and we'll try this again" - that connection helps to ground me and forces me to relax a little so I can process everything more calmly.
posted by flex at 10:33 PM on July 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

No name calling, ever. You should never call the person you love names, no matter how angry you might be.

You can go to bed angry. If you are too tired to discuss things, go to sleep, and discuss them the next day.

Don't bring up the past. It does no good, it makes no sense, and will just make both of you angrier.

If you need to, step back from the argument and calm down. Let your partner do the same (even after 14 years with my husband I am still working on that one.)

Honestly though it just really comes down to being able to control your anger and looking at your partner as the one you love, not someone you are angry at.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:46 PM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of the comments strike me as kindhearted best practices and constructive suggestions that are likely to give in the event of a real fight, which tends to have an irrational, adversarial nature.

So when I am in a fight, I don't try to ignore the instinct to win. I just define winning as behaving in such a way that an imaginary third person (as I conceive him or her) would deem be to be more reasonable and persuasive. I think this prevents me from being too much of an asshole, while at the same time allowing the little rhetorical flourishes. Admittedly, not as genuine or cathartic as some techniques, but I'll take the tradeoff.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:47 PM on July 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

Also: no getting out of a moving vehicle.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:47 PM on July 7, 2010

- Don't disappear. It's ok to leave for a while, but say where you are going and for approximately how long. Doesn't have to be exact location, but something to narrow it down between "the park down the street" and "a solo voyage to inner Mongolia" is nice.

- Don't be afraid to compromise or change your mind. No one is keeping score (hopefully). Consider "turning the chessboard" and arguing your partner's point of view.)*

- Remember that you love this person deeply and want them to be happy. Trust that they feel the same way. If this is no longer the case, then maybe [petty argument] is really masking something deeper. Think on this.

I don't pretend to be a relationship expert, but this is what works for me.

* When my dad was teaching me how to play chess, he would sometimes wait until I got hopelessly muddled and then turn the board around so I could play the stronger side and maybe eke out a win. It was more interesting for him and less soul-crushing for me. This is mostly unrelated
posted by charmcityblues at 10:59 PM on July 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

1. No talking about anything serious or life-changing after midnight. Exhaustion makes you say all sorts of things you may not really mean. Anything worth fighting about tonight is worth fighting about later -- often it turns out to have not been worth it after all.

2. No shouting.

3. If you want something, ask for it. As much as it would be excellent for someone to be able to read your mind and do/say exactly the right thing, it turns out that rarely happens -- and your partner's lack of ability to do so isn't a liability.
posted by hermitosis at 11:27 PM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a hair-trigger temper and a tendency to get mad and shouty. My partner is highly non-confrontational to the point of being passive-aggressive about things until I get mad and shouty. This causes problems.

Sometimes I call him names, because I am too angry to think straight. (I also call people names affectionately, or jokingly, or because I am momentarily annoyed with them, or because there is a Red Sox game on and they are losing and someone walked through the room at the wrong moment, or because my Medic ubercharged me at the wrong moment and then I ran out of beer.) I always apologize afterward when I do it in a fight. He knows I do not mean them, because I do it all the time, but doing it in actual anger I feel requires an apology. The only name that is off-limits is "asshole." In our house, you do not call someone an asshole unless you really, really mean it. There is no instant forgiveness for that name, but "jackass" (for example) can be forgiven in the heat of the moment. This is not a rule that might work well for people who are not us, but it works just fine for us. (I will acknowledge that I am an asshole. He will acknowledge when he was being an asshole. [It's usually me doing the acknowledging. I am an asshole, and being a self-aware one doesn't change it or make it okay.] We will not make that statement for one another.)

When I realize I am getting too angry to think straight, then I realize that the argument is completely invalid from that point on (and probably from several minutes before that, retroactively). I will tell him that I am being stupid because I am angry, and then I will go off alone until I have calmed down enough to be rational. We might try again from a calm start to resolve the issue. We might decide, from that calm start, that it's actually a non-issue that got inflated, and then the argument is abandoned.

I phrase my assertions as "I feel as if" or "it seems to me like." I do not have absolute facts at my disposal; I have my own interpretations of the facts I live amongst.

We don't say anything specifically designed to hurt the other. Whatever the argument is about, that is what it is about. No dragging in insults, no bringing up unrelated arguments.
posted by titus n. owl at 11:48 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think someone already mentioned this, but try to figure out your and your partner's fighting "style". For example, I often cry when I'm angry. I don't sob and whine, but the tears start flowing against my will, especially if I'm completely pissed off. My partner sees crying as a kind of emotional blackmail, so this triggers a rather nasty and condescending response from him, which gets me even more pissed off. We've been able to work this out recently and now our reactions are a bit different - he tries to ignore my crying if we're in the middle of a yelling match and I tell him to cut the crap if he starts giving me the "boohoo look at the little girl crying crocodile tears" line.

Also, no name calling and generalizing. "What you did in this particular moment (or in a series of moments) is bugging me and we're fighting because of that, not because of your general character."

And mainly, remember you're fighting to achieve some kind of a solution that will work for both of you and your relationship, not to "win".
posted by gakiko at 12:33 AM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If someone is yelling, probably someone else isn't listening.
Everybody has the absolute right to call a temporary halt to the argument.
No insults, ever - we're on the same team.
When we lose our way in an argument, someone should say, what do we need to do to resolve this?
The argument isn't over until both of us feel closure/resolution.
You can't capitulate to get the argument over - you can capitulate if you feel the other person is right, or that you don't care about the issue as much they do. You can expect to be quizzed on this.
If either of us is in the wrong (on particularly difficult marital issues - say, infidelity, usurping parenthood, disloyalty, failing to follow through on an important promise), the one in the wrong has to listen to the wronged one say how they feel (not blame), until that emotion is resolved, without argument, but as a good and dear friend.
Neither of us should hold a grudge - we need to discuss it.
Absolute honesty, couched tactfully.

We avoid using the word "but".
"I love you. I would like you to do the dishes more often."
is completely different to
"I love you but I would like you to do the dishes more often."
posted by b33j at 1:47 AM on July 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

My wife (of 19 years) and I have one rule, and it's been mentioned above in passing: no "always" or "never." When you eliminate "you always do ____" or "you never do ____" it's amazing how many points of contention go away and how much fairer everything becomes.
posted by jbickers at 4:00 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Never make the other person regret that they apologised. If you're still angry, take a deep breath anyway and thank them. It's hard enough to admit a fault without the other person crowing "SEE, I told you so" or "fat lot of use that is".
Apologies, honest ones, mean respect and love between imperfect people. Cultivate an atmosphere of extending and accepting apologies with a sincere heart.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:16 AM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Any time I was in a relationship and we established "rules" for arguments, it only made it worse. I always wanted to know exactly what he wanted to say. The idea that he might holding something back drove me crazy.

I think the best thing to do is to be with a person who has the same arguing/fighting style and preferences you do. It's actually a very overlooked part of compatibility that is nevertheless extremely important, even though it sounds so negative. I think there are two models of fight behavior: the "explosive" and the "retentive." The former is a pressure-release theory, based on the idea that once all the awfulness is out of your head and into the air, it can be dealt with, and the latter is more of a "if no one mentions this, it will go away by itself, or we will get used to it" type of thing. I think.

For instance, I'm a person who has a terrible temper and I can, once in awhile, get quite verbally vicious during an especially bad fight. It is not one of my finer qualities, but it's not so bad that it is pathological--I just tend to be on the "explosive" end of the fighting spectrum. I am able to take it in addition to giving it. I prefer to have a big, screaming, explosive blow-out if there needs to be one, and then sit and discuss what happened, and then make up. I am quick to anger and quick to get over it. I have dated sirs in the past who have not been able to have the fight. They were slow to anger and slow to get over it, and more on the "retentive" end of the fighting spectrum. They detested conflict so much that rather than fight/reconcile, they ignored the problem, and when I attempted to discuss it, were so fearful of the conversation turning into a fight, they ignored me. I couldn't handle being ignored any more than they could handle being fought with. They needed people who could sit, simmer, and slowly let things pass without ever discussing them, and I needed someone who could fight just as meanly as I did, and then get over it as quickly as I did.

There is a way to reconcile these preferences. I dated, on and off for years, a sir who was very much on the retentive side of things (unless he was drunk, but that's another story). We went through a spell of fights where I would try to discuss things and he would get so nervous about escalation that he would accidentally escalate it by refusing to talk about the issue and giving one-word answers and then ignoring me completely, which drove me absolutely crazy and of course resulted in yelling. This made neither of us happy, so we managed one day to discuss the issue of our incompatible conflict resolution preferences, and we did make two rules: 1) I was to be as calm as humanly possible when trying to discuss an issue, not yelling and not crying, and giving him time to formulate responses before I kept talking, and 2) he was never to ignore me or to shut down the discussion with sarcasm or one-word answers. This actually worked really well. We broke up for unrelated reasons.
posted by millipede at 6:18 AM on July 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

When something has been forgiven, it is off the table for discussion. No bringing it up again, ever, especially not in anger.

No "but that one time you were an asshole!". No "but that was horrible and wrong of you three months ago!". If I forgive, I forgive entirely. Clean slate.

This seems to cut down on the climb to the moral high ground. None of the "I might be wrong but you've been more wrong!" nonsense.
posted by lydhre at 6:42 AM on July 8, 2010

Here are some tips that may help you out a bit.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:46 AM on July 8, 2010

I'm not the most rational fighter, but I've always thought the old wives' advice "never go to bed angry" is especially lousy. So often, when a fight gets heated, rest is exactly what people need. I don't find I get more reasonable, calm, or rational as a late night drags on in acrimony, nor is the next day likely to be a good one when I drag myself into work with dark circles under my eyes and think about things stupidly and groggily.

But if we can table the issue and get some rest, I do find that the next morning, I'm able to more peacefully reflect and consider the issues and that they don't seem so acute. Postponing the discussion until both people are rested and feeling more in control of themselves almost always seems like a good strategy to me when things get hotly argumentative.
posted by Miko at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2010

Well, for one, different people are different and require different approaches. My approaches/rules won't be applicable to you, necessarily. The biggest general rule that I apply with my husband is:

We're different people. It does not work to treat him the way I'd like to be treated. Instead, I have to treat him how he wants to be treated. It blew my mind when I figured that one out. Symmetry just isn't there for us. We're too different. We don't have to be the same. That's okay and doesn't have to be abusive or weird or unfair.

Maybe an example will help.

When my husband gets pissed, he gets up in the morning before I do and writes a little list of things he's mad about, and then we talk about them. Recently it was

1. [super serious thing I can't really talk about]
2. When are we having a baby?
3. Crumbs on the floor

Now, I would never wait to say any of this. If there were crumbs on the floor (and I noticed), I would immediately get cranky like "what the hell, my feet are covered in crumbs? Kevin, stop eating chips all over the apartment."* If I wanted to know when the hell we were having a baby already, I would just say when I though about it "when the hell are we having a baby?" But for him, that is really difficult, and it has to be a THING and he has to structure it and write it out and psych himself up.

I know that. I know it's not easy or trivial for him. So when he gets upset I chill the hell out and listen to him. I stay perfectly calm, I don't argue, I don't give my side of the story, I make sure I understand what he's saying, and that's it. If I get upset (even guilty) it just wrecks his confidence and he clams up. That sucks. So I don't do it. I give him hugs, and we're done. If I have anything to say I say it later.

Conversely, when I get upset about something, he has to respond, get upset, tell me I'm wrong, get sad that he made me sad, something. Or I don't think he's listening and taking me seriously. I need immediate feedback and some emotional response. Pretty much the opposite of what he needs.

That's okay. It's okay for both of us. It works.

*He doesn't do this at all. I do, though. I don't sweep, either. :(
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:06 AM on July 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

Listen, listen, listen. DO NOT be thinking about the argument you're going to make in return while the other person is talking. While they are talking, you are listening. If this is a problem for you, force yourself to repeat their points before you start saying anything new ("Okay, so, what I'm hearing you say is three things. Number one, you don't like it when I don't clean the counters. Number two...") Doing this often forces you to calm down, and also makes sure that you're actually on the same page about what you're arguing about.
posted by marginaliana at 7:13 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Remember that a committed relationship is a cooperative endeavor, not a competitive one. Discuss things when you are feeling calm, not when you are stressed. Talk about how something makes you feel, not what you think the other person's motivations are (i.e. "I feel unloved when you do x", not "you do x to make me feel unloved").

And the single most important thing to me is: PICK YOUR BATTLES (my husband and I almost never fight and both try to be very accommodating of each other, so when one of us puts our foot down about something, the other knows that whatever it is is really important).
posted by biscotti at 8:26 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't fight? That seems like the easier route to take. Your relationship isn't a debate club.
posted by chunking express at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2010

Admit the surrounding factors: you are tired, hungry, crabby, your OCD is freaking out, you're having an anxiety attack. ADMIT THEM.

Both sides need to apologize.

Both sides need to be able to say "you were right" if the situation warrants it.

It will be a rare couple that doesn't fight. I know one couple that says they've never fought. (I believe them, knowing their personalities.) To pretend that it doesn't happen just sets you for not being able to handle it well when it does.
posted by micawber at 8:57 AM on July 8, 2010

1. No swearing. Swearing is language designed to hurt and inflame, and even if it's intended just to blow off steam, there's a good chance it will be taken badly.

2. If one party leaves to go into the other room, the other party must let them go.

3. If one party really needs to discuss an issue, the other party must prioritize the discussion. Set a phone alarm if you have to, to make sure it happens, but if your partner has a grievance, don't make them fight about it to get heard.

4. No mocking the other person's grievance. I cannot stress this enough. Most of me and my husband's fights are about irrational, unreasonable issues; if they were rational and reasonable, we could talk about them rationally and reasonably! So when I take a deep breath and admit to my husband that I don't like it when he puts the butter in the butter compartment in the refrigerator because I like my butter soft because when I was a kid it used to really upset me when I tore the bread trying to butter it and maybe it still DOES upset me a little, it's not kosher for him to say "That's all? That's a stupid reason to be this mad!" Maybe it is, but it's the only reason I've got, and I need you to respect that it's a big deal.

5. Be willing to apologize. And be willing to apologize FIRST. Something like "I'm sorry I got shitty with you this morning; I'd been building up resentment about the dishes for a while, but I could certainly have found a more reasonable way to open that discussion" can go a really long way.
posted by KathrynT at 9:35 AM on July 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Rule 1: no fights

Seriously. I was done with fighting in relationships before I was old enough to have a relationship. If it can't be handled without fighting. Then wait till it can be.

This means, NO X. where X=things that look/sound/feel like fighting.

This has worked well for 7 years so far and shows no signs of slowing down. It requires tons of talking and sharing small things before they become big things. no secrets.

Some people might find it less fun than fighting. I supose that's a drawback.
posted by French Fry at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2010

Acknowledge when the other person has a point. It diffuses tension and allows them to then acknowledge your side without losing face.
posted by heatherann at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2010

Oh, and another one:

I used to get so frustrated that he would suddenly start talking about how cute the cats are in the middle of a Big Important Fight. Now I've realised that it gives us both a minute to breath and remember that not everything sucks and hey, at least we both still love the cats. We can go back to the issue at hand when our heads have cooled a bit. Participating in those little diversions instead of fighting them, and trusting him to come back to the issue (not forcing him to), has helped a lot.
posted by heatherann at 2:04 PM on July 8, 2010

2. If one party leaves to go into the other room, the other party must let them go.

Not a rule. My ex used that as a way to run away from any confrontation and we had to work out how to make our fights less tense so she wouldn't feel like she had to escape. This is part of learning your partner's fighting style. I learned that her violent past made her ultra sensitive in tense situations and she learned that her leaving the room just made me angrier because it didn't resolve the cause of the fight. (She also learned that not everyone resolves fights with fists, thank goodness.)
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:24 PM on July 8, 2010

No yelling.
No name-calling or negative labels, e.g., "you're self-centered."
No sarcasm.
No swearing.
Prove to the other person that you're listening -- by waiting for them to finish, by paraphrasing what they said, by saying something empathetic or sympathetic.
Try to talk just about the current instance. If it's a pattern, it's more constructive not to say, "You do this often." If it's a pattern, then it may happen again, and at that time you'll talk about the new instance.
Say. "I was embarrassed when you told the story about blah blah." "When you interrupt me, I feel like you're not listening." "I felt hemmed in when you spontaneously invite so-and-so on the damping trip."
Don't say "but," because it makes them stop listening. It often works to replace it with "and." "I do like your parents, and I'd like to have shorter visits with them so I can enjoy their company without getting exhausted."

This stuff is hard at first. My husband and I agreed on the ground rules after one counseling session -- and then had to keep reminding ourselves for a long time. But when it starts to work, you both feel good.

Both people should argue from the best part of themselves.
posted by wryly at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2010

uh, camping trip.
posted by wryly at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2010

I think there are several problems with having a legalistic set of rules. First, there is no authority to judge whether a rule has been followed or broken, so the argument can easily devolve into a meta-argument about whether or not the rules were broken. Also, the excessive adherence to the rules can be a weapon against the other person, to frame yourself as the aggrieved saint, for example. And perhaps most importantly, isn't your ultimate responsibility is towards your partner, not to an imaginary 3rd party law-giver?

The impulse to have laws comes from a reasonable insight, that certain ways of communicating anger or hurt feelings can have a negative impact on the person being communicated to, so the solution is to prohibit those things - sarcasm, name-calling, swearing, etc. But I submit that, in many cases, the main reason that anger makes people unsafe is not the negativity in itself, it's that they feel they aren't in control of the situation - the other person's anger could escalate at any moment, who knows what they will do? Having rules is useful because they put restraints and limitations on what can happen, indirectly fostering a feeling of safety. But of course, without any authority to enforce the rules, it's difficult to have a whole lot of confidence that they will be followed in the heat of an argument.

I think my rule is better -- don't say things that cause the other person to want to abandon the argument -- because it gives them direct control over the situation, which is the best way of making them feel safe. If they feel like their hand is on the dial controlling the intensity of the argument, they don't have to retreat, defend, escalate or attack -- all ways of trying to get safety -- and they can be more open to hearing what you have to say.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:18 AM on July 9, 2010

Don't fight in the car, ever.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 7:16 PM on July 9, 2010

Huh, we find the car a great place to work things out. You're both in place with nowhere to go, but you're facing forward so you aren't staring and glaring intensely at one another. The most important thing is driving, which keeps your issues in perspective. It can be a good place to revisit something that was rough earlier.
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on July 9, 2010

Nonviolent Communication (aka NVC – book) has been extremely helpful to me. It has a basic formula for every tough conversation; 4 steps in order:
  1. Observations: "I notice that...". These are factual observations; not to be mixed with feelings, attacks, etc.
  2. Feelings: "I feel...." These are feelings alone – things like "sad", "happy", or many others. "I feel that you're an asshole" isn't a feeling, it's a thought masquerading as one. Feelings would be like "I feel frustrated", or "I feel hurt". Remember that it is never "you" that causes "me" to feel; I am responsible for my own feelings.
  3. Needs: "I need...." This is the thing that you need to feel better. But it's expressed in terms of the needs alone, not a solution.
  4. Requests: "I request..." This is something the other person can do to help you.
I highly recommend the book. I also made a cheat sheet (PDF) that can be printed double-sided and folded in half. It lists things that are feelings and things that are needs, to help separate them. It can be hard to see through a cloud of thick emotion and I find the cheat sheet helps.
posted by yourcelf at 9:33 PM on July 9, 2010 [9 favorites]

Great cheat sheet, yourcelf!

I haven't read the book, but I have heard a lot of good things about NVC, so definitely something to check out.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:49 AM on July 10, 2010

Disengaging from argument whenever the other person becomes mean, cruel, or otherwise shooting below the belt. You shouldn't be trying to win the argument, but figure out what the problem is and how to fix it in the future. There is no winning, no winner, and especially no coming out better if either person is taking potshots.
posted by talldean at 8:21 PM on July 10, 2010

To paraphrase Johnson: let no man say he is wretched by your persuasion.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:13 PM on July 11, 2010

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