Fair Fighting:  Ground Rules for Couples

Establishing ground rules in the beginning of your relationship is the best way to ensure that you will stick to them when conflicts do come up. Discuss these ahead of time so that your rules can be clear and support the kind of partnership you want to achieve.

  1. Remain calm.  Although difficult, it might be the only way to have others listen to your perspective.
  2. Discuss in private. No one wants to be a part of your drama and arguing in front of others only seeks to create undo embarrassment and shame for you and your partner.
  3. Express feelings in words, not actions. Telling someone directly and honestly how you feel can be a very powerful form of communication. Be mindful of not raising your voice, rolling our eyes, pounding the walls or throwing things. Those actions shut down communication. If you begin to feel so upset that you feel you may lose control, take a “time out” and breathe, take a walk, play music or do something that helps you feel more in balance and calm.
  4. Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on.  Things like "you always make me feel..." are not helpful because they don't give our partner a clue to what to change.
  5. Deal with only one issue at a time. Don’t bring in other “past” topics until the current one is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
  6. No “hitting below the belt.” Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
  7. Avoid accusations. Accusations will cause others to defend themselves. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
  8. Don’t generalize. Avoid words like “never” or “always.” Such generalizations are usually inaccurate and will heighten tensions.
  9. Don’t stockpile. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. It’s almost impossible to deal with numerous old problems for which interpretations may differ. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
  10. Avoid clamming up. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication.

For more help, sign up for the Couples Communication course.

Based on University of Texas http://cmhc.utexas.edu/booklets/fighting/fighting.html
~Wendy Pegan, Relationship Builder

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