When my husband and me fight it gets ugly. How do we change this pattern?

I like this question, because it’s right out of the playbook of just about every family I know, including our own. 

All couples fight. All couples fight. Anybody who says otherwise is not dealing with reality. Oh, every once in a while, you hear somebody say, “We’ve been married 28 years, and we’ve never had a disagreement.” When I hear those rare statements like that I think, “Well, then one of you is unnecessary here. Somebody married a clone of themselves.” 

Because when you have two people that are very different and are from different backgrounds, and they’re waking up under the same blankets, and they’re sitting across from each other at meals, and creating kids, and co-mingling assets, you’re going to have conflict. That’s normal. And when you have kids in there, you’re going to have conflict. 

But you see, we have found that it’s better if you know how to have conflict in a proper way. We call these the rules of a fair fight. And there are some basic things that we can do when we’re having conflict that can make sure that it does not get the best of us—turn toxic—and bring the worst out of everybody involved. 

Here are some basic things. 

First of all, no name calling. You don’t put people down. You don’t work them over with profanity. No name calling. Keep your volume at a conversational level. 

I remember one time our two older kids were having a conflict, and my wife had them sit down on the couch in the family room. And she was in the kitchen fixing dinner, and she had the radio on there, and she was listening to it. And she said, “Now, listen, if I can hear you kids over this, you’re too loud.” And she didn’t let them get off the couch until they’d resolved it. 

So, no name calling. Keep your volume down. 

Deal with one issue. Not many. When you throw a bunch of them out there, they just get all mucked up. And so just one issue at a time. 

And avoid generalizations like, “You always . . .” or, “you never . . .” because, well, you cannot defend them. You want to deal with the person’s behavior, not their character—whether it’s your spouse or a kid. Deal with their behavior, not their character. 

Two more rules. 

We’ve found that in any kind of conflict—usually one’s fighting the facts of the conflict, one’s fighting the feelings. And so, when we’re getting nowhere, my wife and I think, “OK, time out. Let’s separate the facts from the feelings here and let’s deal with them individually.” Because in the facts, you may not owe an apology, and on the feelings you owe a big one, and vice versa. And when we find that we resolve these things separately, then we’re more able to see the thing from the other person’s perspective. 

And the last rule of the fair fight is that you want to aim at unity not victory. The last thing you want to do is win a battle or an argument with somebody you love. The reason why wives don’t want to win arguments with their husband? Simple. If you win an argument with your husband, guess what you’re sleeping with tonight? A loser. And you know what, if you keep winning those battles, he’s going to start thinking he’s a loser and really start acting like one. 

No. You want unity, not victory. And when you let these rules of a fair fight guide you, not only can you resolve conflict well, you can show your kids how to do it, and bring a lot more peace and harmony into your home.