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7 Tips for Fighting Fairly in Marriage

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/24/2006 | Marriage
Fighting fairly is one of the most important skills you can learn in order to keep your marriage healthy and strong. While it may first seem that fighting only happens in "bad" marriages, fighting actually happens in all marriages.

Researcher David Olson of the University of Minnesota estimates that 25% of marriages are happy. 50% of couples will never be happy without very good therapy. 30% of marriages are considered "empty", with little love or joy. 25% of marriages could be really happy if the couples learned better how to communicate and how to resolve conflict.

It is this latter 25% that should be focused on. Learning to fight fair can be the difference between a bad fight/bad marriage and a bad fight/good marriage. You can have a bad fight but still have an overall good marriage. In fact, couples who fight productively report more marital satisfaction once the fight has ended.

What separates out the couples who fight and make up from the ones who don't? In two words: fighting fairly.

Couples who fight fairly demonstrate several subtle, but crucial traits, that keep them from becoming overly angry and hostile. What are the traits which separate fair fighting couples from those who don't?

1) Fair fighting couples focus on the behavior, not the person. "Honey, can you please put your dishes in the sink?" rather than, "You're so lazy. Why can't you put your dishes in the sink?"

2) Fair fighting couples state their requests directly. If they want their partner to behave differently, they ask for it. They are able to communicate clearly about what they desire. "Please put your dishes in the sink from now on" rather than, "I need you to change."

3) Fair fighting couples limit their focus in arguments. Rather than "kitchen sinking" an argument (where you complain about everything at once and throw in the kitchen sink for good measure), fair fighting couples focus on one issue at a time.

4) Fair fighting couples maintain healthy respect and good nonverbal communication. The importance of good nonverbal marital communication has been highlighted by John Gottman, a well known marital researcher at the University of Washington, who has identified four behaviors leading to relationship distress. One of these behaviors is contempt. Couples who show a high degree of nonverbal contempt for each other (through behaviors like eye-rolling, avoiding eye contact, shaking their heads) are more likely to have relationship distress.

5) Fair fighting couples allow the fight to be over. One important element of fighting fairly is to let the fight be over when it's done with. FC's find it easy to forgive, if not forget. They do not bring up old issues again and again just to prove a point. Fair fighting couples's take the chance to make up and reconnect at the first opportunity.

6) Fair fighting couples discuss issues sooner rather than later. They know that it's easier to talk about an issue while it's small, before it becomes overwhelming or leads to extreme resentment.

7) Finally, fair fighting couples focus on winning in the relationship, not on winning the fight. They remember that they are on the same team, working for the same goal, and are, really, allies rather than enemies. They keep the relationship as their main focus rather than focusing mainly on their personal ego.

Fair fighting is a skill that can learned. If more people learned to do it, it's likely that fewer marriages would end in divorce. All marriages will have fights- it's how you handle those fights which determines whether your marriage is a happy (or unhappy) one. Remember:

"Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate."
Barnett R. Brickner