The Huffington Post recently featured an interview and video with well-known pastor Rob Bell and his wife. In the interview, Rob and Kristen reveal the thing they think is most critical to a healthy marriage: knowing how to fight fair. I couldn't agree more. We tend to think that we should NEVER fight and that if we stop fighting altogether, it means we have a fabulous relationship.
Candidly, this is not what we should aim for. We need to fight, we need to express our thoughts and ideas, especially when we don't agree. But how we do it is key. We need to find ways to respectfully and thoughtfully disagree.
To help you start fighting fairly, Rob says, "Because it's easy to get swept up in the heat of the moment and allow anger to derail a discussion, the key to fighting fair is remembering that they're seeing something that you aren't. By asking yourself "what are they seeing that I am not seeing?", you are able to keep things in perspective and prevent self-serving emotions from taking over, which also helps keep hurt feelings at bay. Even better, pose the thought to your partner directly: "Help me see what you're seeing." This approach is vital in acknowledging and validating your partner's perspective."
I whole-heartedly agree. When you look at your spouse as an adversary who is spouting nonsense, you're unlikely to learn anything from the conversation and you're likely to turn the conversation into a fight. Instead, think about the notion that the world looks different through different eyes. Your perspective is just one perspective, it's not the only perspective. Your spouse is not crazy and full of ridiculous ideas, he/she sees things differently and if you discount that perspective, you are missing out on a lot of value, as well as an opportunity to connect.
"When you get married, you get a second set of eyes," Rob explains. "And for many people, the second set of eyes is a cause of constant tension: 'Why don't they see things like I see things?'" Instead, Rob suggests viewing the second set of eyes as a much more positive asset. By listening to your spouse and thinking about their perspective, "You now have a broader, more expansive view of the world," he says.
Wondering what else you can do to fight fairly? Here are some best practices:
1. Validate something from your spouse's perspective BEFORE arguing for your perspective. Remember people only listen (and allow you to influence them) when they feel heard and understood. So make sure to help your partner feel understood and important before talking about your point.
2. Go slowly and take breaks, stop if you feel like you're losing control. There's no prize for rushing through a discussion and blowing it up into an argument in 10 seconds. Really, force yourself to go slowly and talk slowly if you're feeling emotional. Going slowly gives your nerves a chance to settle down and your calmer mind to prevail.
3. Be soft, gentle, and compassionate as you are talking. We all want our spouses to be gentle with us. We get married hoping for unconditional support and understanding. Try to remember this when you're next in the middle of a heated discussion. Your spouse might be angry and seem like a "cactus," but underneath all of those thorns is a person who probably wishes you'd just reach out and hug them.
4. As you're talking, say something that conveys you're a team and you'll get through this. We tend to keep fighting and keep escalating if we think we're in it alone. So tell your partner that you understand, that you're on their side, that you know how important this issue is to them. Say anything that seems right to you to communicate that you're on the same team.
5. Avoid judging, criticizing, blaming, labeling, calling names or calling the other one crazy. None of these things help. They only make the conversation go south quickly. Keep telling yourself that everyone is entitled to their own feelings and thoughts; you're not the expert on your spouse's feelings, they are!
I hope this has helped you and if you'd like to learn more about how to fight fairly, I recommend this tool for you: Dr. Kathy's Ultimate Guide To Effective Communication.
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If you'd like to see the video and read the article about Rob and Kristen Bell, please click here to go to The Huffington Post.