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Fighting Fair, Part 2

March 27, 2019 | Married Life, Relationship Builder | No Comments

In every marriage, there will be times of conflict. One of the ways we believe you can help create a marriage that lasts is learning how to “fight fair”.

Last week, we gave you the first six of our Dirty Dozen rules of fighting fair. This week, we’re exploring the other six.

Be willing to be wrong, and be willing to say you’re sorry.

This sounds like common sense, but it’s actually very difficult for some people to do. No one likes to have to admit fault (or error), and, “I’m sorry,” is one of the toughest sentences to utter in the English language.

A successful marriage is based on trust, and trust is earned over time through a series of interactions that have honesty at their core. If someone cannot honestly own their mistakes, and apologize for the all-too-human temper or harsh words, then trust will be eroded until it’s gone. And as the foundation of a marriage, when trust doesn’t exist, neither does the marriage.

The root of an inability to admit a mistake or ask for forgiveness is just foolish pride. It can also be hidden vindictiveness – you don’t want to say you’re sorry because you never intend to accept anyone else’s apology. People who don’t let others off the hook will find it very difficult to ask for that grace from others.

But more often than not, it’s the right thing to do. Admitting the other party is right, and we are wrong, is a sure-fire way to diffuse tensions and allow you to work toward an actual solution. As we mentioned last week, a fair “fight” within a marriage isn’t about winning; it’s about resolving the issue.

When you’re wrong, or maybe were a little too passionate in your argument, or said something unnecessarily hurtful, say you’re sorry.

Forgive when it’s asked for (and sometimes when it’s not)

The flip side of being able to ask for forgiveness is being able to grant it – meaningfully – when it’s asked for.

We’ll all screw up from time to time. Whether it’s something pretty innocuous like forgetting to run an errand, or really egregious like hurling hurtful words in the middle of an argument, whenever our spouse realizes they owe us an apology, we need to accept it, and mean it.

That’s not always easy if in the heat of the moment, the wound they caused still stings. But forgiveness isn’t just about absolving your spouse of whatever they did that hurt you. It’s about removing a huge emotional barrier to bonding and intimacy.

And it might even be really healthy for you to practice forgiveness as a way of life.

We’re both practicing Christians, and one of the primary tenets of our faith is to forgive others as we were forgiven by God. As Christians, the Bible tells us that whenever we humble ourselves and confess our sins to God, “…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We need to do the same for others.

There is debate about whether you should forgive someone who hasn’t asked for it, but even if they haven’t asked, it’s still possible to let your anger subside and “lay down your sword”. Do this for your own sake, and for peace in your home.

And like we mentioned last week, if you’ve forgiven, then the transgression you forgave needs to stay in the past.

Not every hill is worth dying on.

We know some couples who fight over every little thing: where they are going out to eat, what corner to put up the Christmas tree (and white or colored lights), how long to cut the grass.

We even had a decent argument last fall about which specific tree branches Jeremy was going to cut off that Jeremy is pretty sure will happen again in a few weeks, because he wants to cut two more off of Kari’s peach tree that she doesn’t want to lose.

Ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, if the thing you’re arguing about is actually worth the effort. Or more importantly, if it’s worth the emotional toll it takes on your relationship.

We hate to break it to you, but leaving the toilet seat up probably isn’t worth the fight.

One way to determine if the issue is worth doing battle over is to call a truce for an hour or more, to let tensions simmer. You can always reapproach the subject later, in a calmer atmosphere and with more clarity. Often, after a period of time spent focused on something else, that little annoyance suddenly doesn’t have the same grip on you that it did earlier.

Learn how the other person fights.

After 25 1/2 years together, we know each other extremely well. So much so that we often have entire conversations without saying a word to each other. We can be at a dinner party somewhere, and just by swapping glances, we know that our spouse is enjoying the conversation (or hating it), if we want to leave, if they find a person entertaining or dull, etc.

Getting to know another person so completely is one of the best parts of a long marriage. It’s actually really fun to be able to have meaningful interactions in a crowded room, without saying a word to each other.

Coming back around to the subject of fighting fair, you also get to know how your spouse engages in conflict, how they disengage, and what their recovery process typically is.

Kari was reminded of some Glory kickboxing matches we watch occasionally while we’re going to bed; specifically, the fighting styles of two of the heavyweight contenders we see regularly.

Rico Verhoeven, the long-time Glory heavyweight kickboxing champ, is a very good-spirited, very athletic 6’5″ guy who likes winning his matches by out-scoring his opponent in points. He thrills to use combination punch-kick-knee attacks and loves to go the entire 3 or 5 rounds with his opponent. And because he’s in amazing physical shape with high stamina for a man his size, Rico tends to out-last his opponents in the ring – he doesn’t have to go for an early victory. In fact, though Rico has been the Glory heavyweight champ for 6 years straight, he’s only had 16 knockouts in his entire career.

In contrast, one of the other heavyweight contenders, 6’8″, 260 pound Jamal “The Goliath” Ben Saddik, tires quickly with his lumbering stature, so he needs to try to take his opponents out early in the fight with a knockout. He’s had about half the fights of Rico, but has almost double the KOs.

Each fighter has a style that matches their training, experience, and skill set. We believe it’s critically important to know that about your spouse, because knowing how our spouse fights helps us to understand the best way to approach and resolve conflict in our marriage.

For instance, Jeremy (by his own admission), is much more short-tempered than he was as a younger man, quicker to get crabby (he calls it, “not suffering fools gladly”), but also usually quick to realize when he was a little too hot-tempered. He’s quick to apologize and forget the argument even happened.

Kari, on the other hand, is very slow to anger but when she’s really steaming, she also takes a longer time to calm down.

It’s important to respect that your spouse may anger differently, argue differently, and release that tension differently. Just as you cannot expect them to see everything the way you see it, you can’t expect them to feel things the way you do, either.

On that note,

Respect the other person’s recovery process

One the fight has reached its peak and some agreement is reached, there’s going to be a process of healing and recovery and return to intimacy, and that’s different for each person.

In our marriage, Jeremy is almost always the first to forgive and forget, often to Kari’s bewilderment.

Jeremy describes his process this way:

Often, as the fight reaches the ridiculous peaks (like they often do), I will suddenly tire of the fight and switch emotions at the top of the “hill”. I’ll tell a joke or make some physically funny gesture that stops the fight cold in its tracks. It’s like riding an argument up like an elevator. Whenever we reach the floor I think is high enough, I’ll step off the “anger” elevator and get one another one, and ride that back down. It’s not deliberate – it’s just a way out of tension that works for me.

Kari’s process is very different:

I have to internally process the argument afterward and review it in an internal monologue. Sometimes I know I’m too mad to think objectively, so I like to step away, review the situation and what happened, and think about how I really feel. I have to let the anger subside, sometimes by talking myself out of being angry. 

The anger doesn’t stay, but it can take hours before I feel back to normal.

Neither process is better than the other. But both have to be respected and understood. Jeremy can usually move on very quickly but that doesn’t mean Kari can do that, and he has to respect the time it may take for her to feel better.

Your spouse has a specific process of recovering after a fight. Learn it and embrace it as part of what makes your spouse that wonderfully unique person you married.

(By the way, we envy those couples who have wild make-up sex after a rip-roaring argument; that’s never been our process, dang it.)

Having it out is better than holding it in.

The last rule of our Dirty Dozen about fighting fair is pretty simple: it’s always better to have the argument than it is to bottle it up.

Little problems grow into massive ones if they are left unattended. It’s never fun to bring up a concern to your spouse, but it’s far better to do that than slowly start to harbor resentment toward them.

Some grievances may not seem like a big enough deal to bring up, but its often better to talk it out than make assumptions or put your own motives on others.

Here’s an example: Jeremy works from a home office most of the time, so it’s easy for the family to ask him to step away from his work to do things they need him to do. Because he often can do it for brief moments of the day, Jeremy does so.

But over time, he begins to get irritated and finally resentful that the family doesn’t seem to respect his work, just because he’s at his desk in his study instead of 20 miles away at an office like Kari is.

Instead of bringing it up, Jeremy will finally get very angry at the interruptions, and usually, one family member (the last one who asked for something) takes the brunt of his frustration.

That’s not fair to the family member. Jeremy realizes he needs to set firmer boundaries long before they become a significant frustration to him.

Especially if you follow the first eleven rules, it should be easier to bring up issues with your spouse instead of just keeping quiet and being bitter about it. Remember that the purpose of a fight is to solve an issue, not to beat your spouse in a shouting match. If you approach your marriage fights in that light, bringing up (or hearing) grievances is easier to do because you are both working toward a solution that strengthens your marriage, not breaks it down with bickering.

That’s our Dirty Dozen on fighting fair! What did we leave out? What other rules do you believe make for resolving disagreements in your marriage? Answer in the comments below!

Fighting Fair, Part 1

March 18, 2019 | Married Life, Relationship Builder | No Comments

One of the most common questions we’re asked in this new little blog is, “what about the fights?”

Indeed, if you haven’t had some serious, heart-pounding disagreements in your relationship, you’re probably not in a serious, heart-pounding relationship yet.

Disagreements are inevitable in any long-term relationship, and sometimes they can be very spirited ones. Let’s face it – if you’re going to be married, you’re going to fight sometimes.

We think the difference between a marriage that remains strong after a fight, and the one that is damaged from it, is how you fought. In 1579, poet John Lyly wrote that “all is fair in love and war,” but when love is war, we can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have some rules of engagement.

We’re going to cover our Twelve Rules for Fighting Fair, our “Dirty Dozen”, as it were, over two blog posts. This week, you’ll get the first six, and next week’s post will cover the rest.

One thing we should note before we begin:

We are most definitely not talking about enduring abuse of any sort, including verbal and emotional abuse. If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, you need to seek outside help immediately. Here is a hotline for victims of domestic abuse that will help you get out, and stay safe. Or, in a moment of violence, immediately call 9-1-1. Do it!

That said, here are our first six rules to fight fair:


When he doesn’t pay attention

January 29, 2019 | Relationship Builder | No Comments

One of the most common complaints women have about men is, “He doesn’t give me his full attention.”

And it’s true; men don’t often fully disengage from what they’re doing to listen to what their wives want to say to them.

We’re tackling this together (instead of “He said / She said”) because it’s a challenge for our marriage, too, even after 25 years together. We’re sharing a struggle we really do have – this isn’t just blowing smoke.

Here’s how it typically happens:

Jeremy is doing something. Anything.

Kari enters the room and starts telling him something. Anything.

Jeremy kinda/sorta listens, inserts a lot of “Mmmm hmmmm” and “Yeah” into the conversation.

But after 25 years, Kari immediately knows he’s off in “Wherever Land” and isn’t actually paying attention to what she’s saying.

Usually, Kari interrupts Jeremy’s distant psychic adventure with the always curt, “What did I just say?”

(Hubby side note: one time, Kari didn’t bring me back to attention in the usual way. She just started to make the story she was telling to the absent me more and more bizarre until there was no WAY I could say I was listening. Things like, “I hope you liked the cat I made for dinner. I had to chase it down and kill it with my bare hands.” I said, “Yeah.” I was caught.)

~ Jeremy

It happens to the best of us. Every single marriage has this issue. And it’s basically human nature.

Women want to talk. Men drift in and out of conversations all day.

Actually, it’s likely a matter of biology at work. Men and women are just… different. Men are instinctively hunter / gatherer types, worried about the “big picture” items like are we fed, warm, sheltered, and safe? And the details generally are irrelevant.

That’s why, after a man gets the general thrust of where a conversation is going, they don’t need or want a lot of details. They hear you had a disagreement with a coworker, but men won’t usually need to hear exactly what was said or why. They probably won’t remember the details, anyway.

The other thing a man’s mind will immediately do when his wife tells him about a problem or concern is to immediately try to find a solution (this is another blog post entirely). His mind is pretty simple, ladies: “

“Wife has a problem, summed up as XXXXX. Solution to XXXXX is YYYYYY. Problem solved.”

As soon as a guy’s brain latches onto the gist of her story and his mind finds a solution to her problem, he will begin to tune out on specifics they don’t believe is vital to the situation at hand.

But to a woman, tuning out the details means tuning her out (and again, not to jump to a future blog post already, but women don’t always want their problems solved for them, guys). A wife is wanting to share with you, the complete issue at hand, including how it made her feel.

Men aren’t instinctively wired like that. Where men are chainsaws, women are scalpels. Women are inherently much better at picking up small details and hints that a man would ever be able to. Again, it’s just one of those wonderful differences between the genders.

To a woman, the details and nuances of the story MATTER. And that’s what men have to remember. And paying attention to what matters to her tells her that SHE matters.

We know this will be a serious bone of contention for many couples, because even as we’re writing this, we’re getting crabby with each other over this subject. A lot of raw nerves come out. Kari would say she feels disrespected when Jeremy doesn’t give her his full attention. And Jeremy would say that of course he respects and loves her dearly; it’s just that what she was talking about that moment wasn’t holding his interest.

So what does a couple do about this? We have a few pointers, for the ladies and the gents, that have worked for us over our time together:

  1. Ladies, if you need his full attention, ASK FOR IT BEFORE YOU START. Sometimes a guy is engrossed in something before you walk into the room, and it’s not as easy for men to shift gears or multi-task as it is for women. Do him a favor and give him a few moments to wrap up what he’s doing before you start your story. You’ll get a more attentive husband if you didn’t just pull him up from the football game or the morning paper for what he thinks will be a sentence or two, so he didn’t disengage what he was doing before you started.
  2. On that note, ladies, be self-aware enough to know if what you want to talk about can wait until a later time if he’s busy with something else. If he’s working on a car, or reading a book, or answering work emails, can it wait until a little later, when he’ll likely be less distracted? Remember that men can’t shift gears as readily as a woman can. It takes real effort to completel shift from one activity to another in an instant.
  3. Men, as difficult as it is to sometimes stay tuned in to all the detail and subtlety of her story, it’s her story. She’s sharing something of herself and she values your input. Communication is the lifeblood of women, and you are the biggest part of her life. Take the time to focus on her story, because you’ll score the points of showing her you’re focusing on her.
  4. Men, if you say you are giving her your attention, then do it. Don’t half-ass it. Wives always, always, always, always know. Don’t kid yourself that you can be half-in and half-out of a conversation.
  5. Men, you need to be self-aware, too. If you realize you’re drifting away mentally from the conversation, stop yourself immediately and tell yourself, “No, stay focused on her.” (Jeremy has to do this often working with clients as a financial planner, too. Sometimes people just need to talk; even if they, by his standards, aren’t saying much.)

It’s not something we think a couple can ever make perfect. We’ve both had to work on this a great deal, and we sort of ebb and flow in our success at doing it. But it can be done.

Guys, remember: she’s sharing with you because you’re her best friend. Don’t take that lightly. We may not always care about all of the details. But we must always care about her.