I often describe my relationship with my husband only to find myself fighting off a swarm of bees. I love that man like crazycakes, and when I write about our love story, my words often drip with sticky sweet sentiment. And that is true and genuine and an accurate reflection of how I feel about that tall,blue-eyed, piano playing, motorcycle riding man.
And we also fight.
Like all couples, Gabe and I do not get along all of the time. We have our share of disagreements, days when one or both of us are itchy and scratchy. Raising six children (three of them committed teenagers) in a tribe of six adults with independent viewpoints and differing perspectives isn’t always easy-breezy.
The first year of our marriage was ridiculously hard. Each of us had grown accustomed to our single parent routine. While we were delighted to begin our life together, trading the freedom and independence of a one-adult to three-kid ratio for something bigger and more tangled chafed.
We disagreed on parenting styles, stepparent roles and when chocolate milk was okay with dinner. We had different expectations of the children’s behavior and what constituted a clean room or a lazy Saturday. We found ourselves fighting all the time, wordlessly as the kids swirled around us in the kitchen and in angry whispers behind closed doors after bedtime.
It felt awful.
We were both worried and disconnected and exhausted. In desperation, we sought out a counselor, and sitting on her couch we began the conversation that yielded our five rules for fighting.
Rule 1: No arguing in the bedroom
The bedroom is a safe haven, and a place for connection. We can certainly talk about tough topics there, but if we find ourselves spiraling into an argument, we choose whether to stop or leave the room. More than once, we’ve ended the discussion simply because we realize whatever we’re talking about isn’t important enough to move us both out to the rest of the house.
Rule 2: We don’t fight after 10 p.m.
Fighting when we’re tired is a recipe for disaster, and in this house when 10 p.m. rolls around we are exhausted. We found that fighting late at night rarely produced a solution and often spiraled into a situation that felt much uglier than it might earlier in the day. If we’re upset or angry late, we agree to postpone the conversation. It’s okay to go to bed angry around here. Things often look brighter in the morning light.
Rule 3: Anyone can tap out, anytime
Don’t feel like answering a question? Overwhelmed by emotion? We agree that either of us can call a stop to an argument at any point. We can simply say, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” and the argument is over. Really. We may choose to return to the conversation later, but calling a time out is sacred and respected.
Rule 4: We don’t raise our voices
I grew up in a house where shouting happened rarely, and when voices were raised, things were very very serious. I know that for some, shouting is just expressing themselves at a different volume. Not me. Shouting is a trigger that makes me anxious and uncomfortable, and that’s not helpful in a disagreement. Avoiding triggers makes sure we keep focused on the topic we’re working through instead of slathering on additional negative emotion.
Rule 5: We stick to the script
The topic at hand is the only acceptable discussion point during the argument. No hopping over to our last argument. No bringing up that thing you do with your ex that really bothers me but I haven’t said it until now. No calling names or withholding kindness or otherwise poking or prodding the other. The goal is to come to agreement and end the argument, not land punches or win points.
Truth? We don’t always follow our own rules. Sometimes, arguments still result in hurt feelings and things we wish we hadn’t said. We’ve each experienced the lumpy living room sofa. But, for the most part, we fight within the boundaries we set.
These rules keep us each focused on the topic at hand, not distracted by triggers or emotion. We can work to find a solution to what’s in front of us, and stay on the same team while we do it.
Do you have fight club rules? Have you changed how you argue for the better? I’d love to hear how you keep the peace in the comments below!
Want to join a Tribe that understands what it’s like to parent after the first-family?Looking for a group that gets it? Join the Tribe and get monthly mini-courses, group support, access to live Q&A with Kate and more for less than $0.50 a day! Get your first month free here!