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Fair Fighting

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  George Bernard Shaw

Couples bring into their fights messages from the past – I have no power, I can’t be heard, I am not supported.  These messages enhance a fight and create a barrier to hearing the other and to finding resolution.

John Gottman, founder of the Gottman Institute, has been doing research with couples for decades and says that once a person’s heart rate is 95, they get overwhelmed and are unable to hear the message coming at them.  At this point, everything feels like an attack and nothing is constructive.  What does this mean for any change of fighting fair?  Once you fell an argument is getting heated – STOP!  Take a time out, calm down, go for a walk and return to the argument when you have cooled down.  Below are some other guidelines, which may help toward resolution, called FAIR FIGHTING RULES.

1.  Know why you are fighting.  Ask yourself, “What is really bothering me?  What do I want the other to do or not do?”  Set some goals for this conversation.

2.  Remember the goal is to feel safe while talking and expressing your experience and to reach resolution through communication.  The goal is not to attack, disrespect or hurt, which will not help the relationship or the problem and can lead to feelings of guilt.

3.  No yelling or insulting, rolling eyes, making faces – attack the problem, not the person.

4.  One person speaks at a time, like volleyball, back and forth, limited to 2 minutes with no long speeches and no interruptions.

5.  Stay on the current subject or issue.  Do not start including “other times” or “Other issues.”

6.  Whoever is speaking must state his or her own feelings from his or her own experience.  Use the word “I.”  “I” feel, “I” notice, “I” want, “I” expect, “I” am hurt when…

7.  No generalizations such as, you always…you never…  No “you….” statements allowed.

8.  Do not assume you know what the other meant, wanted, imagined, etc.  Do not take things for granted, do not guess.  If something said is not clear, ask for clarification again.

9.  You are responsible for what you say and do.

10.  And, following that, each person must take responsibility for his or her own behavior, feelings and actions.  Do not blame, accuse, discount or minimize the other’s feelings.  Shutting one down will only result in making him or her fell unheard, uncomfortable, unsafe and resentful.

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