A universal rule book for fighting fair in marriage

Marriage is a unique battle — it's the only one where both parties really do need to win.

Fighting with your spouse? You’re definitely not alone. No one likes to admit it, but arguing within marriage is a common dirty little secret. In spite of what you’ve been told, your neighbors, your friends and your parents all disagree with their spouses a lot of the time, and it’s not the end of the world. Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that not seeing eye to eye equates to a bad marriage. According to worldly advice, when you and your spouse start bickering, it’s time to hit the door.

That advice is so wrong. Fighting is not the problem. Fighting dirty is the problem. No two people, no matter how committed and in love, will agree on every part of life. It’s impossible, and it’s not even very desirable. We come to marriage not to agree on everything but to grow, learning about new parts of ourselves and our spouses. When disagreements arise, we have a duty to fight fair. Sinking down to squabbling and bickering like school children is what kills marriages. Before you go to battle with your spouse, learn the rules of the game.

These are your battle plans for engaging in a fair fight.

No character assassination

In a real war, there are snipers designated to take out threats, but sneak attacks have no place in fights with your spouse. Assassinating your spouse’s character is a low blow. Before you resort to name-calling and fault-finding, bite your tongue. Besides, the fastest way to force your spouse to disagree with your position is to make him or her mad at you personally.

Go in with a goal in mind

What’s your end game in this argument? Before political leaders go to war, they visualize desired outcomes, whether that means protecting citizens or protecting interests. In your house, is it your goal to win your spouse over to your way of thinking, or is it to have everyone walk away happy? If you’re going to battle to change your spouse’s view of the world, neither of you will win; however, if you’re trying to find a mutually beneficial compromise, you can both walk away happy.

Keep the high ground

This is one war where both sides need to stay on high ground the entire time. Don’t get stuck in the mires of past transgressions and old hurts. Stay on topic for the discussion at hand, and refuse to get sucked into scorekeeping or grievance escalation. The second you and your spouse start dredging up the past, you’ve both lost.

Think diplomacy

Do you have the negotiation skills of a UN diplomat or a guerilla warlord? Think of your home as a civilized institution, and use civilized language. Own your own feelings by using “I” statements like, “I feel hurt when…” If you find yourself saying a lot of “you” statements or blaming your actions on your spouse’s behavior, it’s time to take a step back. No one can make you do, feel or say anything, no matter how annoying he or she may act. Take responsibility for your role in the conflict.

Know when to retreat

Just like some countries are too ideologically different to get along, you can’t win some fights in marriage. If you find yourself having the same argument day after day, let it go, and agree to disagree. There is honor in refusing to engage, especially when you’ve tried and lost before. Don’t give up on your marriage just because there are issues you can’t come together on. We all have them, and part of learning to master yourself is learning how to keep quiet.

Before you let a bad disagreement tank an otherwise great marriage, learn to fight fair. You can have your opinion heard and grow within your marriage without hurting feelings. If you both agree to some general rules, civil disagreement can help you create a dream marriage.

Heather Hale

Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys.