Fair Fight Rules

By:Amy McMillan

“Healthy conflict” may sound like an oxymoron to some – a contradiction of terms. After all, if we are in conflict, we’re not healthy, right? Well, most relationship counselors will specifically disagree. In fact, to have healthy relationships, people must conflict sometimes. Conflict is inevitable, no one agrees with everyone all the time. The question is how to deal with it.

We know that if we have disagreement without acknowledgment, then we create a whole new host of problems. These can be labeled “conflict avoidant”, or “passive aggressive”, or “living quietly & miserably ever after”!! So, we have conflict. That’s life. That’s typical. That’s healthy! Now that we have determined that one must have conflict to be healthy, what constitutes healthy conflict?

Anger is a normal emotion. Anger is not right or wrong. It’s what we do with the anger that can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy conflict is characterized by an ability to sort out differences in a way that is some what tolerated by those involved. I say some what, because at first the conflict may not be easily or comfortably tolerated, but with a little practice, tolerance levels become more balanced.

It is no secret that we all have different tolerance levels. People who have never been exposed to arguments or conflict may say, “I don’t know how to speak my mind to my spouse, my parents never disagreed in front of me.” People who grew up with fighting parents may have extreme tolerance because that is what they are accustomed to; or they may have no tolerance at all, because they are striving to “not live that way anymore”. Confusing, huh?

As a result of this confusion, and working with many couples of different tolerance levels, upbringings, cultural believes, and more – I have constructed the fair fight rules. These are designed as a guideline to help couples determine how to conflict as fairly, and as comfortably as possible with one another, while still speaking up and voicing their conflicting points of view. Couples can tailor the list with personal rules – agreeing never to bring up a specific topic in an argument for example, or agreeing to take a “time-out” when the discussion is getting too heated. Remember, the purpose is to resolve the conflict, not to simply vent the anger.

  1. No threats during argument.
  2. No blanket judgments or labeling generalizations.
  3. Stay on the topic at hand.
  4. No interrupting.
  5. Stay in present tense.
  6. Don’t argue in the dark.
  7. Don’t walk away or leave the house without saying to your partner, “I’ll be back”.
  8. No finger pointing.
  9. Take responsibility for your thoughts. Use “I” language.
  10. Write down the topic at the beginning to insure staying on topic and clarify the issue.
  11. Try to avoid over-dramatization.
  12. Allow time to collect your thoughts. Immediate response is not necessary.
  13. Approach the argument with a problem solving attitude, rather than blame.
  14. Try to avoid statements so critical that the other person has no course but to retaliate.
  15. Don’t save up feelings and dump them all at once, try to air feelings often.
  16. Try not to yell.
  17. Don’t use abusive language or labels.
  18. No gossip.
  19. Speak for yourself.
  20. Neither person is right, there are only differences. Both win when the conflict is resolved.
  21. Admit you’re angry.
  22. Go forth as equals. Don’t use power plays. Gauge the intensity of your anger to the ego strengths of the other person and be responsible with the things your mate has entrusted to you in your relationship. YOU ARE ON THE SAME TEAM!

If you cannot resolve the conflict, see a professional who can help each of you hear and understand one another. A relative, neighbor, or friend who usually doesn’t have the training, cannot remain as objective as a counselor, minister, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

Cary Behavioral Health Care
Amy McMillan, MEd, LPC
8000 Regency Pkwy, Ste 260
Cary, NC 27511
“A comprehensive Approach to Mental Health”

(This excerpt should not be used as a substitute for counseling, and CBHC and clinicians therein have no liability to individuals who do not seek appropriate levels of treatment; all rights reserved).

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hans Sieber January 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

I lost my copy of a hand-out for “fair fighting rules” and did a quick google search. Small world! Hi Amy! Great list, thanks!
– Hans

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