[Note: This post was refurbished from my personal blog, Apricot Tea.]
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A relationship usually starts out being distorted by infatuation. The excitement of being in love often goes straight to the heads of the new couple, making it impossible for either one of them to do any evil.
This was not the case with Jonathan & I.
We fought like a crotchety, old married couple for the first six months we began seeing each other. Our fights were almost always temperamental outbursts, dripping with neglected emotions caused by the one of us or the residual issues from a past lover.
The only plus side to our frequent verbal fisticuffs was that they taught us how to fight fair with each other.
The art of fighting fair isn’t hard to attain. All you need is patience, an open-heart, & a lot of practice.
Yes, you’ll need to fight in order to learn how to fight fair.
Fortunately for you, Jonathan & I fought so much in the beginning that what we’ve learned (& what I’m about to share with you) will not require you to practice as often.
1.) Understand your fighting styles & how they differ.
Knowing your partner’s fighting style — & being cautiously aware of your own — is key to fighting fair.
After all, if you know that you’re about to duel with an angry opponent, only to find that he has but a toothpick to defend himself while you have an insanely sharp sword, it would be unfair to stab him the heart. This hypothetical situation is comparable to arguments with your lover. It’s okay to have opposite fighting styles, just as long as you don’t use that to your advantage.
Looking back, I now understand why Jonathan & I quarreled so much in the beginning. We had opposite fighting styles & didn’t know how to use them correctly.
Jonathan is the one who is trying to move the fight along to get to the end result: making up. He is the peacemaker, the one who is patient & oh-so-understanding, even if he doesn’t really understand. He will do & say anything to make the fight go in a more neutral, loving direction. He’s even prone to saying “I love you” mid-argument. Jonathan is a person that fights with fairness, tolerance, & unconditional love.
I, on the other hand, fight like a jerk. I am the tyrant, the irrational finger-pointer, the one whose attitude makes the fight much worse than it has to be. I believe in stretching a fight as far out as possible, so as to drain out all of the emotion so there’s nothing left. And when Jonathan doesn’t match my yelling with elevation in his own voice, I become even more angry. I provoke, I stomp about the house, I give unnecessary silent treatments, I shut down emotionally.
Our fighting styles haven’t quite changed, but Jonathan & I manage to fight fair nonetheless. When I push, Jonathan gently backs off. When Jonathan is calm & rational, I do my best to breathe deeply & listen.
Because of this, we’re not so quick to kill each other.
My advice: Identify your personal fighting styles. Think back to past arguments & analyze who had which role. By going back & recognizing your previous fighting traits, you’ll be able to fight from a level of understanding that you didn’t quite have before.
2.) Pick your battles, & choose wisely.
Before you open your mouth to verbally attack your lover about his caveman-like table manners, take a deep breath & count to ten. Being aware of your breath & counting to ten will keep you from spewing word vomit all over the kitchen table.
If you’re at all like me, you’ll realize by the time you count to five how silly you’re being & let it go.
But if after you count to ten you’re still terribly irked by the way he’s chewing his food, say something… but with gentleness.
Which brings me to my next tip…
3.) Think before you speak.
When approaching his improper conduct, there is a wrong way to respond & a right way.
The Wrong Way: “My god, could you chew any louder?! Pretty sure you’re waking the dead right now. Disgusting.”
The Right Way: “I’m so happy you’re enjoying the meal I prepared for you. Perhaps you could try to keep the food in your cute little mouth.”
It’s obvious that The Wrong Way is aggressive, attacking, & cold. And while The Right Way sounds a bit contrived, it comes from a place of tenderness, however out of character. He might even think you’re teasing with him. Humor is often a great way to carefully approach (& prevent) an impending argument.
My advice: Take a shot of mental Pepto before you word vomit. And when you do choose to speak, come from a place of kindness rather than rudeness.
4.) Fight with love. Always.
As the two of you are bickering, you both become a different people. You say things you wish you hadn’t, & you resort to defensive, hypersensitive behavior to protect your hurting heart. You accuse & attack. You dig up past mistakes to use against your lover to prove a point. Your words & actions come from a source of uncontrollable anger & defiance.
Or… you can try to fight with love.
Fighting with love is difficult, especially on the ego. But it is possible. You just have to put forth the effort.
Jonathan‘s advice (because I’m still learning this concept): Try to understand your lover before you get her to understand you. Once she knows that you understand her, she’s more likely to listen to you because she sees that you truly care how she feels. She’ll also be much more receptive to understanding you. Also, during the fight, see your lover as the way she is when she’s the most loving, not in the way she’s behaving currently.
5.) Realize what the fight is really about.
One of the dumbest fights Jonathan & I have ever gotten into was over plastic bags.
We were at the grocery store, picking up a few things so we could cook dinner for my mother & sister. As I was putting tomatoes in a plastic produce bag, I saw Jonathan taking celery out of the cart & its respective bag as he murmured, “We really don’t need to put these in here.”
He then put the bare celery back into the cart & continued shopping. I remember asking him why he took the celery out of the plastic bag, & he calmly replied that it was wasteful. To which I responded, “The reason we use bags is to protect the produce from getting dirty in those unsanitary shopping carts.” And Jonathan quickly shot back, “That’s why we’ll rinse them with water when we get home.”
That small exchange of words quickly turned into a full blown yelling match.
Back then, I didn’t understand why we were fighting over something as stupid as plastic produce bags. But I know now that the fight had little (if nothing) to do with bags at all, & everything to do with my fear of real commitment, my uncertainty surrounding our differences, & my inability to trust Jonathan.
It terrified me to think that my life was to be heavily affected & changed by this man, when I felt like the way I did things was perfectly fine. His correcting my wasteful ways made me feel like I was a bad person, & it made me question whether or not I could deal with being with a guy who would point out these flaws & change them for the better.
Inanimate objects are seldom the source of any quarrel.
My advice: Realize that almost every fight has an underlying source of pain or fear behind it. Being aware of this will keep the argument centered on what it’s truly about — your (or your lover’s) trust issues. It will provoke a heartfelt conversation where you two can speak openly about your anxiety regarding your relationship. It won’t be comfortable, but doing this will promote a kind of intimacy that’ll make up for the awkwardness.
6.) Make up in a way that’s comfortable for both of you.
There’s such raw emotions in arguments; such vulnerability & sensitivity. Making up, apologizing, & forgiving is no exception.
It’s very important that the two of you know how you prefer to make up, because this will ultimately determine how (& if) the fight will end.
Jonathan knows that I need uninterrupted time to myself to cool off & clear my head after a fight. He knows that if I don’t get this time, I’ll feel rushed into forgiveness, thus making me feel that he is devaluing my emotions, thus provoking another useless fight.
Jonathan understands that my road to making up is silence & sometimes isolation, just like I know that his road to making up leads to affection. He’ll want to hug, kiss, cuddle, & tell me he loves me to bring the animosity down a notch & get us back to a loving place.
His making up style is physical & loving. Mine requires more inner-healing & settling down.
Neither of us can stand each other’s making up styles, so we compromise: Jonathan gives me the space I need to calm down emotionally, & I give him cuddles & hugs when I’m ready. Sometimes I’ll come to him without uttering a word & climb into his lap.
In that moment, the fight is over.
My advice: Making up is about patience. It’s about giving you two the time you both need to put your emotions in a safe place so that you can come together with love & understanding. Take time to identify your making up styles, & respect their individuality. When you’re ready, let your pride fall, give your apologies, & restore your relationship with intimacy. Hug, kiss, even shake hands to symbolize a truce. Physical contact often speeds up the making up process.
All might be fair in love & war, but it doesn’t have to be a war. You don’t have to bicker like territorial animals. You can choose to fight with fairness & love, & still get your point across. Once you realize that, you’ll be more apt to keeping the peace, rather than blowing your top.
That is what fighting fair is all about.