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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:


Unless you have basically unlimited income, there will be times when you’ll be needing to spend evenings at home. These don’t have to be unromantic! There are plenty of great activities you can do in and around the house that cost close to nothing and provide wonderful opportunities to bond and deepen your connection. Here are some of our favorites:

Go for a walk (or a bike ride)

Get out and walk! You’ll get some healthy benefits for your body, mind, and marriage.

When the weather is nice, especially from spring – fall, when it’s still sunny out in the evenings, we like to talk a walk around the neighborhood with our puppy, Ripley, leading the way. We’ve seen some amazing sunsets this way, enjoyed watching our pup do her best to chase rabbits, met some neighbors out working on their yards, and talked a lot.

It’s the chance to just be together, as a couple, that makes these so rewarding. We can talk about our day, about upcoming plans, about vacation ideas, whatever comes to mind.

So get up and get outside. The fresh air and exercise is good for you, but the companionship and chance for close communication is even better.

Have a game night.

Board or video, a game night is a great date night activity. Atari, anyone?

Sometimes there is nothing more fun than sitting at home with a bottle of wine over a game of backgammon, Othello, mancala (really fun and under $10) or poker (with wine, this eventually becomes strip poker, but we digress). Whatever your game of choice is (except maybe highly competitive games or violent video games) would work magic. We still have a Wii, and a night of Wii Sports or Tetris can also be great fun.

One of Kari’s favorite Game Night memories is of us playing backgammon by the fire with some soft music playing, and Jeremy kept pouring more wine into her glass when she wasn’t looking (Jeremy doubts very seriously she didn’t notice). Neither one of us can remember if we actually finished that game.

In any event, just keep it non-competitive and just enjoy the quiet fun of a night in with your favorite game. It can definitely lead to a sexy finish (and there are even some games to help you get there, too, if that’s ultimately your goal – Twister comes to mind.)

Jigsaw puzzles

This one is more of a “Kari” thing that eventually pulls Jeremy in (usually because he finally just wants the table back), but we’ve spent many nights working together on a challenging 2,000+ piece jigsaw puzzle. In fact, we’re a day late posting this because we were both engrossed in one last night.

Jigsaw puzzles are cheap and challenging. They cause you to work together but you won’t spend the time really communicating, and that’s what makes them so fun. You are both turning your attention to the challenge at hand, and solving it together, and in the process, you talk and share without even thinking much about it. That makes for a great bonding experience because it’s not forced.

Cook a meal together.

Cooking together greatly enhances the meal together afterward.

Or bake cookies or a cake or something. Jeremy worked in and owned restaurants, so cooking comes pretty naturally to him, and Kari loves to cook and provide a meal for her family.

Once every so often, instead of trading off the chore of cooking, do it together. Pick a meal that you both love and prepare it together with a glass of wine or a beer, and really enjoy the experience of creating something you’ll sit down to enjoy together immediately after.

If you’re not much of a cook, here are some great recipes for cooking together. Or better yet, grab a cookbook of romantic meals to cook together and work through it.

Take a bubble bath

Enough said.

It’s cliche, but it’s oh-so-nice. And go all the way: light some candles, play some sappy love songs, and fill it with bubbles.

Do we really need to belabor the point with this one? Just do it. Often.

Netflix and Chill

Pick an entirely new movie genre to explore together and reserve it for Date Nights.

We’re in our late 40’s now, so by “chill”, we actually mean chill. A movie night may lead to more, but don’t feel pressured to make it. Just enjoy a movie with your spouse.

Here’s a pro tip: pick a film genre you both don’t know much about but think you enjoy. Don’t watch the same old stuff you’ve seen 100 times.

Maybe you want to finally watch all of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, or want to every old monster movie. Maybe Humphrey Bogart or Spencer Tracy or Jimmy Stewart flicks will be your thing. Or maybe agree to watch every movie rated 100 on Rotten Tomatoes.

Get creative. Pop some popcorn and sit back and watch something different than either of you would pick on your own. You’ll have some quality snuggle time, but you’ll also share in new experiences together as you both view something brand new to you. Seeing something new for both of you creates new experiences you’re sharing together.

Fire pit and wine

There is nothing quite like the contrast of cool night air and a warm fire while you enjoy each other’s company.

(Kari just mentioned that there seems to be a prevalence of wine-drinking in our activities. Jeremy has teasingly called her a lush for years. Meanwhile, Kari just poured us both a glass. Don’t judge.)

Obviously, this can be a patio or porch, if you don’t have a fire pit at the ready. And obviously, this can be a soft drink or an iced tea or a beer, or whatever you enjoy sipping.

The point is, get outside and get busy doing absolutely nothing. Don’t bring your phone except to play a little music. Then sit in the cool of the evening and enjoy the company.

We’ve loved this activity both as a couple, as an extended family with our grown children, and with close friends and neighbors. There is just nothing like ending your day with a setting sun, a cool evening breeze, and the simplicity of simply being together.

These are some of our favorite Date Night At Home activities. Share some of yours!