Shakespeare’s oft-quoted line, “All’s fair in love and war,” may be true, but it shouldn’t be interpreted as license to do whatever we feel like — at least not if having a happy marriage is our goal. If you want to be happily wed, you will need to establish and follow some basic ground rules for resolving your differences. You might call this Fighting Fair.
When a man and woman join together in matrimony, differences will invariably arise, but like two coaches, two business heads, or two civic leaders, though their points of view may disagree sharply, they are still joined in a common goal, which is to promote and support their organization.
Likewise, in marriage, when disagreements arise, the end goal of spouses should be to resolve those differences in a way that will strengthen, not weaken their union. Yes, it can be challenging sometimes, very challenging, but that’s a truism of any worthy endeavor in life. No one rises to the top of their career without a continuous application of effort. And even then, one false step can undo years of dedicated work. It’s a delicate balance and one that requires constant vigilance, but the end product — a happy marriage — will yield dividends far beyond the efforts we put in.
It’s really not that complicated. In fact, all you need to do is agree on a few simple guidelines. Most couples find that this requires only three:
- First, know that any healthy resolution of problems is going to require the participation of both spouses. One person alone can’t do it. You could liken it to two people carrying a stone; if one side lets go, the rock will surely fall — and falling rocks cause damage. Simply put, without a mutual desire to succeed as couple, the relationship has little hope of surviving.
- The second rule requires that you not let your conflicts spill over into attacks on your partner. Sneers, criticisms, insults, “the silent treatment” and other ploys designed to hurt the other person will only intensify your differences and drive you further apart.
- The third rule of Fighting Fair is to keep it private. Nobody wants their dirty laundry aired in front of others, and violating this rule becomes especially painful when our private affairs (and faults) are exposed by someone we love.
Of course it will help tremendously if these rules are established early on, before bad habits have a chance to fester, but more importantly, spouses must honor not just the rules, but their intent as well. For instance, if one of the ground rules is to not shout at each other, and instead of shouting, one spouse walks out of the room in anger, it’s obvious to all that the rule — respecting the other person’s opinion — has been violated.
Once these three boundaries (working out problems together, showing respect towards each other, and keeping it private) have been established, the actual mechanics of problem solving can take any number of forms.
For example, one couple agreed on the day they married never to go to sleep until every disagreement between them had been resolved. “We found that we both liked our sleep and learned early on to resolve our differences quickly,” said the smiling wife of her marriage 63 years strong.
Another couple made a rule to go for a walk when things got heated and avoid looking at each other while they talked things out. “One of the things that attracted me to my wife was the fact that she was a mediation attorney,” said the husband. “Before we married, she laid out plan for us to resolve our differences and those rules have kept us on an even keel for 14 years!”
A third couple agreed from the onset that they would never, under any circumstances, divorce. That security alone gave the couple the courage they needed to confront every problem, knowing that no matter how great their disagreements, the marriage itself was safe.
Fighting isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it can make the marriage bond even stronger, if done in a healthy manner: the greater the history of successful resolutions, the greater the chances of resolving the next one, when it arises. On the other hand, if your fighting is done in an unhealthy manner, the better solution may be to simply walk away. The end result will likely be the same, and you will have saved yourselves a lot of grief in the process.