“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” Mahatma Gandhi
The concept of fight fair seems to be the antithesis of a divorce. There is very little that is “fair” about any divorce. However, learning to fight fair during an intact marriage, during your divorce, or after your divorce can pay dividends in terms of effective parenting, co-parenting, putting closure on your divorce and getting on with your life.
Fighting fairly is a useful tool that you can use in various aspects of your life. The following are some basic rules. Fight fair is not about fighting to win. It is about fighting to be effective or it is about fighting to save your relationship if you are not in a divorce. Conflict is not a problem. All married couples, unmarried couples, and divorced couples argue. It is not knowing how to effectively argue that creates difficulties in a relationship.
The 7 Rules To Keep In Mind During And After Your Divorce:
- Be respectful and kind. Of course you are angry if you are involved in a divorce. Your world has been turned upside down and often not because of anything that you have done or not done. Nevertheless, being civil and kind may be the strongest card you can play in any discussion about a disagreement. Conflict can be defined by hostility and contempt or it can be defined by respect and civility. The only person in life we can control is ourselves. Consequently, the choice is ours to make;
- Use “I” statements. Take ownership of your feelings and actions rather than putting the blame on your divorced spouse or significant other. “I need some help because I keep getting confused about the kid’s schedule,” works better than “You are always late. I am sick and tired of it”. Define yourself. Use words that describe how you feel and what you want and need– not what your partner feels, wants or desires;
- Make an appointment. If you want to fight fair, surprises and spontaneity will not work. There is never a good time to have a discussion about a disagreement or schedule a “fair fight.” However, it is often best to do it within 24 to 48 hours of an issue arising that caused this concern;
- Stay on topic. No blaming. Laying out an annotated history of your spouse’s or ex-spouse’s shortcomings in the past is counterproductive and only will cause your disagreement to escalate into an out-of-control argument. Blaming your spouse distracts you from solving the problem at hand. Blaming your spouse or ex‑spouse moves your former spouse to be defensive and escalates the argument.
Also, do not wander into other unaddressed issues before the current one is resolved. Limit the topics to be discussed. Limiting your “fair fight” to one or two topics at a time will maximize your chances of being effective. Trying to solve all the problems in your divorce or post-divorce relationship with your spouse or ex-spouse will only doom you to failure;
- Never devalue feelings. It is always wrong to say “It is stupid of you to be upset!” Acknowledge that your spouse is upset: “I understand your feelings are hurt.” You do not have to take responsibility for the hurt feelings. However, the acknowledgement is what propels a “fair fight forward”;
- Have rules of engagement. Rules of engagement formalize the premise that you are not interested in playing the blame game and outline safe parameters for working out issues. Such rules of engagement can include:
- Taking turns speaking. One person speaks at a time. If you feel an overwhelming urge to interrupt or speak your mind – try to remember in the past how you felt when your spouse interrupted you or spoke over you; and
- No name calling. Even endearing and pet names can be hurtful if you are using a sarcastic tone; no physical/emotional intimidating gestures/or statements. It goes without saying that in a fair fight there should be no yelling, screaming, or loud voices. Also, be aware of your subconscious body language. No leaning forward. No grasping or ungrasping hands. And no contemptuous facial expressions.
- Be realistic. Understand that starting to “fight fair” in your relationship is going to take time. It is difficult to break old habits of communication. Ask for each other to be patient because you are going to break some of your rules in the first few times you try this. Consequently, have a safe word. Use a humorous word that either of you can use if you feel that the “fair fight” is escalating or that you might break the rules or that your spouse or former spouse is breaking the rules. Such word could be “Rumpelstiltskin” or “tomato mustard.”
If the relationship is out of control, seek help. All individuals develop a pattern of behavior in their relationships. If your spouse or former spouse refuses to create guidelines to fight fair or cannot fight fair despite efforts to do so, then the use of a therapist or relationship coach may be appropriate. Even if those interventions are not successful, then it may be time for you to consider having a divorce consultation with an attorney.