Thursday, 22 March 2001

How to Fight Fairly In Marriage

Written by  Michael Tobin

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The comedienne, Phyllis Diller, once said, "Don't go to bed mad, stay up and fight!" Well, that's not the best advice, but it beats doing the "I'll - pretend - to sleep - but - what - I'll - really - do - is - toss - and - turn - groan - and - moan - and - make - you - as - miserable - as - I - am routine." Whether you stay up all night fighting or tossing and turning, one thing is certain, you'll be exhausted and miserable and your problem won't go away. So what's the alternative? How does a couple fight fairly and resolve conflicts?

First of all, we need to understand that there is no such thing as a relationship without conflict. My wife and I have had our disagreements and so does every other couple I've known or counseled during the last 25 years. Let's face it. We're two people with different personalities, opinions and feelings and sooner or later we're going to bump heads with one another. Maybe she's mad because you're spending too much money or he's upset with your laid-back approach to the kids or maybe you're both dissatisfied with your sexual relationship.

One thing is certain, there's no end to the issues a couple can fight over. However, conflict is not the problem. A couple who together resolves a disagreement creates a deeper understanding and respect between themselves. The real problem is a couple's inability to effectively disagree and find solutions.

Let's return to our original question: How does a couple fight fairly and resolve conflicts?

The first step in conflict resolution is to identify the problem or issue. You'd be surprised how few people are able to answer the question, "What are you fighting about?" So many of us have been arguing for so long over so many different issues that we've lost touch with what's really bothering us. If we could agree about what the issue is, then we'd be 50% along the way to solving the conflict. So, the next time you're in a fight, stop and ask yourself and your partner, "Do we know what we're really arguing about?" If the answer is no, try to clarify the issue and come to agreement on the nature of the disagreement.

Not only do you need to know what the conflict is, you also need to find the right time and place to work it through. More often than not, couples fight late at night when they're tired and don't have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with the problem. So don't do as Phyllis Diller suggests and stay up and fight. If you do, you'll have a night of screams, tears and frustration.

Find a time when you're alert and you won't be disturbed by friends, children or the telephone. Let it be a time that is good for both of you. Don't be afraid to tell your partner, "I want to work this through, but right now I'm exhausted and I'm afraid I won't deal with things very well. If it's okay with you, I would like to continue this in the morning." If you're sincere about wanting to resolve the conflict, then your partner will most likely agree to a temporary postponement.

So, now you know what you're fighting about and you've picked the right time and place to try to resolve it. Next, you need to know how to communicate your conflict with your partner. The following are some helpful rules on how to successfully communicate your disagreement and resolve your conflict.

1. Don't blame; take responsibility for yourself. Blaming puts your partner in a defensive position, and, as we all know, the best defense is a good offense.

2. Start with "I" sentences such as, "I feel hurt and angry when you promise you'll be on time and you're consistently late." I'm not promising that your partner won't be defensive, but I am certain that it will be more effective than telling her, "You're so irresponsible and unreliable. Once again, you've screwed up my plans."

3. Don't tell your spouse that he or she is wrong. If you do, you can be assured that your "wrong" partner will fight even harder to prove that he or she is right.

4. Listen. In other words, try to put yourself in your partner's shoes and make an effort to understand how he or she feels. Don't prepare your rebuttal while your partner talks. Instead, try to work on accepting what your partner says. Remember, just because you have differing perspectives doesn't make one of you right and the other one wrong.

5. State your case but don't compromise your marriage. Don't be afraid to express your wants and needs, but remember, winning a fight may mean losing your marriage. Try to embrace the idea that the only victory in marriage is a stronger relationship.

Believe me, I know that these "cookbook type" suggestions sound easy but in reality are difficult to put into practice. It takes constant effort and discipline and an absolute determination to make your marriage work. However, if you and your spouse make that commitment, then I'm certain you'll create a marriage based on love and respect.


Last modified on Sunday, 22 January 2012 20:44
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Michael Tobin

Michael Tobin

Dr. Michael Tobin has been a psychologist since 1974, specializing in marital and family therapy. He is the author of numerous articles on marriage and family relationships and is the founder of He's  been married to Deborah for 38 years and is the father of four children and grandfather to five.

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