The Art of Fighting Well
We will hurt each other, but 99.9% of the time it will be unintentional...
One of the greatest contributors to conflict in any relationship is the inability to communicate clearly with one another. In the early days of dating, Nick and I discussed what we now like to call, ‘The Art of Fighting Well’. We came up with two absolutes:
- We will hurt each other.
- 99.9% of the time, it will be unintentional.
Our conversation progressed to this, “If we know at some stage we will hurt or offend each other, then why don’t we now, at the outset of our relationship, create some parameters of how to fight well.” So… here are our Rules of Engagement. [Disclaimer: Nick and I are NOT relationship experts, but 12 years on, these guidelines remain foundational in our relationship].
1. Decide outside of the heat of the moment how you are going to deal with conflict.
Discuss expectations of what will happen when one of you is hurt or offended by the other. How do you normally react to being hurt - are you confrontational, passive aggressive, manipulative? Be real with yourself and with each other about your weaknesses. Decide on a better response. Do this together and help each other commit to a healthier response.
2. Bring up your hurt or offense without attacking the person.
Accusation from one person only leads to defence from the other. If you truly want to resolve the issue, take time to gather your thoughts of why you feel hurt. Calmly discuss the principle, not the person. E.g. “You may not realise this, but when you [did/said this] it made me [feel like this]. What are your thoughts?” Asking healthy, resolution-centred questions diffuses accusation, eliminates the need for defence and creates a team approach towards resolve.
3. Seek to understand, not defend. If you are the ‘offender’, do not defend your actions. Listen and take time to understand the other person’s hurt. The space for you to explain your actions comes after genuine listening, understanding and acknowledgement of the hurting person – and as with point two, cannot be accusatory.
4. Realise you’re on the same team.
There is no win when one person walks away feeling like a villain and there is no true satisfaction in playing the victim. The only win is your combined commitment to seek resolution. To achieve this is you need to communicate your hurt whilst maintaining dignity and love for one another.
5. Foster Affection
Withholding affection after resolving conflict is a tell-tale sign that one or both of you are not ‘over it’. Sometimes there is further hurt to discuss, other times its simply pride getting in the way. A true sign of resolve is that you can look each other in the eye and smile, hug or laugh at yet another moment of ‘flawed humanity’. In the words of the Psalmist Elsa, ‘Let it Go’.
Finally, my ability to practice these rules of engagement comes from the understanding that before I even had a chance to accept or reject Him, Jesus died for my sins. Before the heat of the moment [the conflict of sin in my life], before I was even alive, Jesus set the ultimate rule of engagement - His pure life for my imperfect one - so I could be restored back into right relationship with God.
Ps. Kirsty Emery