Relationships, especially romantic relationships require work, they require love in action, they require compromise and a necessary element of working out our issues comes in the form of a fight.
A fight does not have to be a screaming match, nor does it necessarily have to be something we look at negatively. A fight that is fair, has boundaries and is constructive can do your relationship the world of good, clear the air, set things straight and often bear some pretty tasty fruit aka make-up sex.
If you want your relationship to be one that weathers the stormy days, then implementing some clearly defined boundaries when you fight is essential. Though not an exact science because no two relationships are alike, here are some practical and helpful guidelines to ensuring that you are not only heard but that you hear what your partner is saying, which will in turn help you to address concerns levelled at you and most importantly, deal with the issue at hand and move forward. No one wants to fight over the same thing time after time, it’s frustrating, not at all constructive, demoralising and largely unnecessary.
Fight Club Rules
1. You do not talk about fight club
Aside perhaps from trying to gain perspective and guidance from only your closest and most trusted confidants do not get caught up in the trap of bad mouthing you partner every time you have a disagreement.
Constant bad mouthing will create a negative and one-sided perception that you would not appreciate were the shoe on the other foot. After you’ve kissed and made up, your relationship may lose credibility in the eyes of your friends.
2. You do not talk about fight club AT ALL on social media
This really should go without saying but having witnessed couples having a go at each other whilst still together or shortly after having broken up, it warrants repeating.
Break-ups can be messy, emotional, and traumatic events for the couple going through a separation, yet are largely storms in teacups taking place in a land far away for bystanders and friends.
If you condemn your partner or ex on a public platform, prepare to be judged for every utterance, which can severely affect relationships with mutual friends. Always remember, when you fling mud, you’re likely to get some on yourself.
3. If Someone Says Stop, The Fight Is Over
No two people have the same temperament, tolerance levels and attention spans. To expect your partner to sit through an overly detailed account of everything they’ve been perceived by you to have done wrong can be exhausting. When tensions rise and you are nowhere near to resolving the conflict, you may need to take a break and calm down.
No one likes to be shouted at. No one likes shouting because they feel they are not being heard either. When it stops being constructive, take five (or fifty) minutes to breathe. Come back to resolve the issue when you are both calm. Be respectful of your partner’s desire to take a time out and conversely, don’t leave it for too long if you know your partner likes to sort things out and move on faster than you do.
4. Only Two People To A Fight
There are two people in the relationship, there should only be two people involved in any given argument. The moment you involve a friend or family member in your intimate relationship, things are going to get messy. If you are arguing about what a third party said or did, look at the incident in and of itself and put yourself in your partner’s shoes.
If someone close to your partner offended you, for example, speak to that person directly and do not take it out on your partner. If a friend says something that is unwarranted of your partner, have your partner’s back and do not undermine them because you want to put on a show for your friends. This will damage the trust aspect of your relationship in the long term.
5. One Fight At A Time
Multi-tasking is an illusion – so are 2-in-1 shampoos but that’s a story for another day. Give arguments the attention and closure they deserve to prevent them from rearing their ugly heads time after time. It is not constructive to dredge up long buried events, especially if you are using that event as a form of defence against a gripe levelled at you by your partner. That tactic is tantamount to emotional manipulation and has no place in a healthy relationship. It may be that you don’t like what your partner has said; however when we face the truth about ourselves and the effect our actions have on others, it can be painful. Put your pride in your back pocket and commit to working on your flaws as much as you would like your partner to work on theirs. If one person is doing all the compromising—which in fact is no longer compromising but sacrifice—it’s going to cause resentment and that is relationship cancer.
6. No Fists, No Weapons
If you or someone you know is trapped in an abusive relationship, please contact one of the following organisations;
Lifeline South Africa’s National Helpline on 0861-322322
Stop Gender Violence Helpline on 0800-150150
POWA – People Opposed to Women Abuse on 083-7651235
Family & Marriage Association of South Africa on 011-9757106/7
7. Fights Will Go On As Long As They Have To
Though do whatever you can to prevent an argument lasting past bedtime. Take the time to listen to your partner. Too often we listen with the intent to respond and are busy formulating our counter argument before that person is finished speaking. This will cause undue frustration.
I once heard of a couple who fought over text message in different rooms of the house, so they did not shout at each other, talk over each other or have their children witness their spat. They did have some guidelines like one message at a time and at intervals of a minute. This may not work for everyone but find a method that helps you minimise fallout, as it were.
8. If This Is Your First Night At Fight Club, You Have To Fight
It’s much easier to lay down some ground rules for a fight before you actually have one. Some rules that I apply to myself are as follows;
Never use absolutes (pun intended) – No matter how valid your point, you will derail your entire argument by using absolutes.
Cruelty is unnecessary – In my experience, cruelty is only ever used to detract from a valid argument. Don’t fall into the trap. When you calm down you will likely regret having said something awful and you will be unable to take it back.
Afford your partner the same courtesies you seek – For instance, if you hate being spoken over, do not interrupt your partner. If you don’t like being sworn at, do not swear at your partner. If you expect your partner to change minor behaviours, you should be prepared to do the same.
Do not use accusatory language – Speak in the first person, say ‘I’ more than you say ‘you’ and try not to point. If you appear to accuse then your partner will go on the defensive and is less likely to listen to you.
Apologise when you are wrong – When you realise you are wrong, apologise, sincerely and do not use the words “I’m sorry” as some sort of fix all that you bandy about to get you out of trouble or the words become meaningless.
Make amends – If you have unintentionally hurt your partner and are sorry, make amends immediately. Find out what your partners love language is and make it up to them.
If you still find yourselves unable to navigate the stormy seas, you may want to enlist the help of a relationship counsellor.
Before you balk at the idea of therapy, take cognisance of the fact that your car needs fuel, oil, and regular services to keep it in good mechanical health. Your relationship is the same. You can take precautionary measures and stop problems before they start or you can address the problems when you encounter them. Long gone are the days where couples therapy was perceived as a failure or something to be ashamed of or laughed at. In fact, it demonstrates your desire to maintain and in many cases, improve your relationship.
You often hear it said that ‘all you need is love’ and I am not here to argue that. Love is essential but you need more than love to preserve your relationship and couples therapy is one of those tools that can help you do that.