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Tips for a fair fight with your spouse

Dr Marcel de Roos is a Psychologist PhD from the Netherlands with a private practice in Colombo Sri Lanka.

Almost everybody dislikes having arguments. But it’s part and parcel of being in a relationship: even in the best marriages once in a while there are fights between spouses. Before you know it, you vent all the frustrations and irritations of the recent period, while your partner reciprocates in the same way. This doesn’t mean that having a fight is negative. It can be very healthy; a good fight can clear the air and clean up bottled up issues. However, it’s important to maintain a number of rules to keep it fair.

Speak from yourself.

This is a very important basic rule that permeates through everything. Don’t say for example “You’re always pressuring me”, but “I feel pressured by you”. At first glance it doesn’t appear to make much difference or even artificial, but the I-message is of vital importance. In real life it is essential different from the “You always…” or “Yes, but you…” where you accuse and pressure somebody. With the I-message you convey more how you feel and how you experience it. You share what what’s going on inside you without explicitly blaming or accusing your partner. This increases the chance to be heard and understood, even when it’s done in an emotional or fierce manner.

Keep it private.

Your children, friends, family or neighbours have nothing to do with the fight between you and your partner. Before involving other parties, first try to work things out between yourselves.

Keep listening.

Having a fair fight implies having a good quality communication. That means that you not only explain clearly what you think and feel. It also means that you listen carefully to what your spouse has to say. Try to listen to the other side of the story without interrupting and commenting on your partner.

Try to really understand your partner.

It might sound strange, but with fights it isn’t about winning or having it your way. Having an argument is basically a process where the end result should be to have come to an agreement. It’s about trying to understand your partner, where he or she comes from, to be aware of what the other really says (or shouts). Even when you think that you know what is coming.

It could be a good idea to allow the other to vent his anger, without having it derail into a fight. This is not easily done, but it’s important. We have to learn how to conduct a fair fight. Most people don’t have the skills for this or have this competence by nature.

Don’t try to change the other.

People in general are only willing to change if they feel understood and they have the feeling that they are accepted (even when they are in the wrong). You can do your best to change your spouse, but he or she has to do the work. People only change in a genuine way when they want that from within themselves.

Stay to the point.

When you are angry, there is the temptation to unleash everything you have bottled up against your partner. This is one of the biggest mistakes that are made in fights. Most people can hardly handle one point of criticism, let alone concentrate on three or four.

Often there is a temptation to bring in issues of the past when you’re angry. This is not advisable, the fight becomes more intense and a possible way out seems further away than ever. Try to stick to the issue that the fight is about.

Take a break and try to meet each other halfway.

When you are in a fight it’s important to vent your feelings. Following this, try to take a brief time-out or “cooling down” in order to let things sink down a bit. This kind of break usually makes it easier to reach a compromise or come to an agreement. At least it generates a less hectic and less strained atmosphere.


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