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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!

We’re starting our blog off in 2019, just like most people start a long list of promises and resolutions each year. So we thought it would be a fun first “real” blog post, by sharing 11 resolutions we’re making for our marriage this coming year. We hope you’ll do the same.

Resolve to never talk negatively about your spouse to other people.

There’s not much worse than finding out your spouse said something awful about you behind your back to a family member, co-worker, or neighbor. It can definitely be one of the most hurtful things they can hear.

Worst of all, talking negatively about your spouse all the time will make you start to believe it.

This one seems simple but it’s not that easy if you’re in the bad habit of trash-talking your spouse to others. But it’s as simple as this – why should anyone else respect your spouse, when you don’t? (Not only that – it makes you look petty and – perhaps – even maybe shopping for a replacement.)

Marriage is a partnership. It’s a collaboration; two players on the same team. You can’t possibly build a team when you sabotage your teammates.

Resolve to do one kind thing – unasked – every day.

This one is simple to think about but like all habits, it’s going to take some work to “stick”.

One nice or kind thing for your spouse. Every day.

For instance, Kari makes Jeremy’s dinner plates every night. Not because he expects it, but because it’s something small she can do to show him he’s important to her.

Bring your spouse coffee. Give a backrub when they’ve had a bad day. Run a bath for them. Make a favorite meal.

Anything you can do that simply makes your spouse happy, with no expectation of anything in return (even a thank you), will do.

Resolve to leave work at work whenever you can.

This one is tough for some people. Kari spent years as a general manager and eventually a regional HR manager, and so her phone was always ringing. She had to step away from dinners out, time with the family on holidays, etc. Even vacations got interrupted.

That’s the nature of working your way up in corporate America. We get it.

But there are times when an interruption could be avoided if we choose to. For instance, on our 25th anniversary cruise last October, Jeremy set his company email autoresponder to say that unless it was a client and an emergency, any emails left would not only not be responded to – they wouldn’t even be read.

Set your phone down. Or better yet, turn it off for a few hours, and enjoy your family. You only work so hard for these people you love. So show them that love for a few hours a day.

Resolve to have a date night at least once a month.

You fell in love while you dated. Why can’t you fall deeper in love, or fall in love all over again, doing the same thing?

Dating is more than just going to dinner and a movie. Think back to when you were dating each other – you dressed up, made sure you were groomed and smelled good, cleaned the car, got her flowers, etc. Maybe you were one of the good guys and even opened her door for her (Jeremy still does this).

You get the idea. One night a month – at least – DATE each other again. Plan it, spend a little more than a typical night, and woo your spouse all over again. You’ll start to experience the same feelings as when you first met. We promise!

Resolve to hold hands.

I, Jeremy, will admit that this doesn’t always come naturally for men. But guys, it’s something our wives need. Closeness isn’t just a bedroom activity. She needs to know she matters to you in the small moments of your day just as much as the wild nights.

Plus, physical contact and affection are wonderful bits of foreplay. Not that every physical touch needs to lead to intimacy, but the body contact, closeness, and even pheromones you exchange can’t help but draw you closer to each other.

Holding her hand, especially in public, does more than affirm to her that your relationship is meaningful to you. It shows the world that SHE’S important to you, too. It’s a kind of “staking your claim” that men can understand, but it’s also a kind of “I’m proud to be with her” for her.

Resolve to make love at least once a week.

We’ve said this for years, and we believe it strongly – couples who are sleeping together don’t break up.

Sex is obviously vital to the intensity and integrity of a marriage. It’s essential for both men and women.

We could write a book on the subject of sex in marriage (and maybe this blog will have one by the time we’re through), but for the sake of brevity today, let’s leave it at that.

The Bible says our bodies are not our own in a marriage – we owe each other the sacred act of sex. When you stood before God and your friends and family and claim each other as man and wife, you chose to “forsake all others”. It’s not fair to ask your spouse to only come to you for that basic need, and then deny them access to you.

So get busy in 2019. Lock your bedroom door, put on some mood music, and keep your marriage fires stoked.

Resolve to cook a meal together once a week.

This is one we’re not even good at (and we owned two restaurants at one point). But it’s great fun and, again, is an act of creation that you can do together. Plus, cooking together usually means eating together afterward, which is a wonderful cheap-and-quick date night idea.

You don’t have to be gourmet chefs to do this, and you don’t need to make it an elaborate meal. Just get together in the kitchen and, like the life you want to make together, create something wonderful.

Resolve to say Thank You.

Kari says this doesn’t mean saying “thank you” as we would a stranger on the street. We should have basic manners and courtesy for everyone we come in contact with.

What we mean here is, say “thank you” for the things you both just take for granted.

Say “thank you” for always sitting down and paying the bills, or always getting laundry done before the work week starts. Say “thanks” for the lawn-mowing, or the Honey-Do list items that get done. Say “thank you” for keeping the car’s oil changed, and that every time you open your fridge, there are groceries.

You get the idea. We tend to be more courteous every day to strangers on the street than we often are to the people who love us the most. Resolve to change that.

Resolve to listen carefully when your spouse talks to you.

Jeremy has moments where he’s good at this and lots of moments where he’s terrible at it. But the truth is, nothing is more disrespectful to your spouse than ignoring what they are saying. And yes, guys, even when the game is on, and she comes in and interrupts it, stop and listen to what she needs (the game can be paused).

The flip side of this is, make sure you aren’t taking your spouse’s time flippantly. If you’re going to interrupt something your spouse is doing, just make sure it’s important enough to break in. Otherwise, wait for a more opportune time. (But guys especially, if she is talking to you, don’t fake that you’re listening. Women can sense that a mile away.)

Resolve to work on your home together.

We’re always working on our house. The last two homes we owned were brand new, so we had very little to do on them to make them “ours”, but our current home was not only 15 years old when we bought it, it had been a rental in a previous life (your neighbors will have all the gossip on your house – go ask).

Our new home needed a complete landscaping job, painting, patching, cleaning, new furniture, window blinds, and much more. We handled the tasks by working on these items together.

Make a list together, to make sure both of you get what’s important to you. For instance, our bedroom sits over most of our garage, and it was cold in the winter (good for snuggling). Jeremy wanted to insulate the outer walls of the garage to help keep some heat in. That wasn’t the job Kari would have signed up for, but guess what – we spent the better part of a Saturday, together, sweaty and itchy, insulating our garage together.

Working on your home works on your marriage more than you can imagine.

Resolve to pray together every day.

We readily admit that not all of our readers will be people of faith (especially people of our faith), but this is one thing you should do anyway. Whether it’s praying to God, or meditating together, or reading something meaningful together, it’s the act of placing your marriage and your lives into the hands of something greater than either one of you.

We pray every night, even when one of us is travelling (Facetime has been a marriage saver in many ways for us). It doesn’t have to be long and formal. Just hold hands, bow your heads, and thank God for the day you’ve had. Thank Him for the person holding your hand. Thank Him for the health and safety of your family today. Pray for others who aren’t so lucky.

Learning to be grateful – together – is a wonderful act of intimacy you share with your spouse.

That’s our top 10 list for 2019. What did we forget? What would yours include?