Fair fighting rule: A positive environment minimizes a destructive fight
Create the right environment so that when a conflict does occur, it is not overwhelming. To do this, partners need to respond regularly to one another in a positive fashion. We all yearn to love and be loved, to be seen, heard, and known—to matter. These yearnings are calls for attention: those everyday moments when we share a thought, an observation, an “I love you,” and we hope or expect our partner will respond with a laugh, a hug, or an acknowledgment. Couples whose interactions are brimming with these sort of positive exchanges create an atmosphere over time that tips the scales toward the creative rather than the destructive when the inevitable conflicts do arise. They’ve created the right atmosphere for the conflict itself to be positive.
Fair fighting rule: Avoid destructive behaviors that only make things worse
Disengagement behaviors like avoiding, stonewalling, withholding, keeping secrets, or being zoned out are detrimental to you and your relationship. Disengagement is the pretense of involvement, where you’re “kind of, sort of there” but only half-heartedly active and not really conscious of your real yearnings, your real heart. If all you ever argue about is politics or sports, or if you’re whining about superficial things that don’t get to the core of your issues, you’re not being productive. A pattern of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and withdrawal is the result of negative engagements. It can destroy a relationship.
Fair fighting rule: Don’t over-blame
Perhaps you fail to communicate what you want, actively bait your partner, don’t set limits, or nag rather than act constructively. Or perhaps it’s your partner who is engaging in these ways. No matter who instigates an argument, you are both part of a relationship, and whatever happens in that relationship, you both have a part in it. So when you find yourself assigning blame, remind yourself that the highest percentage of blame that you can assign is 50 percent. You’re in this together. If you want to work it out, you have to share the blame.