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10 Fair Fighting Rules
**by Sara Cloostermans
- Make “I statements” when it is your turn to talk and add a feeling. Keep the statement specific. i.e. I feel… when…
- Hear your partner out without interruption, so practice active listening, and then repeat back – validate – what you heard your partner say without interpretation or judgment.
- Reflect your partner’s feelings – validate and repeat them back.
- Use a regular tone of voice and don’t criticize, including no name-calling.
- Never use the “D word” (divorce) or threaten to leave the relationship entirely. It creates a relationship rupture that is much harder to repair.
- Take responsibility for the part you play in the disagreement without blaming.
- Remember that there is no right or wrong way of doing most things, so meet each other somewhere in the middle, even though it may not seem like the “perfect” solution to you; compromise.
- If the fight escalates, walk away to calm down, but re-address the issue again after both your partner and you have calmed down (and do so by the end of the day).
- During reconciliation, talk about how to prevent the same issue in the future, so focus on solutions. Give each other an affirmation – a specific and genuine praise about something you feel your partner does really well.
- Remind each other that you are on the same team even though, during a fight, it feels like you are dealing with the enemy. Reassure each other that you want to spend the rest of your lives together, and that conflict resolution may be hard, but is worth it!
These following three communication skills are some of the “basic attending skills” used in counseling to deepen the connection between the therapist and the client. They will also serve you when you need to have a meaningful conversation with your partner:
- Actively listen without interruption: you can show that you are actively listening to your partner by the use of both non-verbal and verbal communication. When you hold appropriate eye contact, have an open posture, occasionally nod or shake your head, or let out a sigh or an “um-hum,” it indicates that you are attentive.
- Validate without the need to fix anything: you validate your partner by paraphrasing them—repeating back the information that they are sharing with you. Of course, you do not repeat back word-for-word what they just told you, but you summarize what they said using slightly different wording.
- Reflect back feelings without adding interpretations: reflecting back feelings is similar to paraphrasing, but includes a feeling. This is either an obvious feeling you picked up on or the repetition of feeling words that your partner expressed out loud.
Some additional communication skills:
- Show curiosity: ask questions, open-ended questions mostly: “Tell me more about how that made you feel?”
- Be a vault: keep what your partner shares with you private and confidential, so that they can continue to trust you.
- Set a block of time aside to dedicate solely to your partner—actually schedule it in your calendar the way you schedule any meeting—so you have a sense of when the interaction begins and when it will end (1-hour Sunday morning coffee time, for example). During your togetherness, follow each other’s lead in the conversation, use your basic attending skills listed above, and do not change the subject or look for distractions. Stay fully attuned and, remember, this is only for a limited time.
DBT Communication Skills
**DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan
- Gentle: use polite and respectful language (avoid verbal or physical attacks, judgment and sarcasm)
- Interested: act interested in what is being said by maintaining eye contact, asking open-ended questions and giving your undivided attention
- Validate: show understanding and empathy
- Easy manner: be flexible and cooperative
- Stick to your values
- Describe the situation
- Express feelings and opinions about the situation
- Assert needs and wants in the situation
- Reinforce your request by offering reasonable suggestions
- Mindful of the situation by focusing on what you need and want without distractions
- Appear confident