Fighting Fair with Someone You Care About

Conflict is part of life. Disagreements arise when people care about each other. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t bother. Fights happen even with those we love most.

The absence of conflict is not necessarily the sign of a strong, healthy relationship. How we resolve conflict in a relationship may be a much more important gauge of the relationship’s strength. When handled appropriately, conflict can actually fortify relationships and improve our understanding of each other. Concentrating on fighting fairly with the people we care about can have a far more positive impact than trying to avoid disagreements altogether.

Conflict stirs up strong feelings. We get angry. Our feelings may be hurt. But it’s important to remember that these are normal human emotions just like joy and pride. It’s okay to be mad and it’s okay ​to feel hurt… even when the emotions are connected to someone we love. How we deal with and communicate our feelings is what really matters. Unpleasant feelings can be expressed in a constructive way that moves conflict forward toward a positive outcome.

When it comes to fighting fairly in a relationship, it may help to consider the following strategies.

A few suggestions you might find useful…

  • Try to remain calm. It’s easy to overreact in emotional situations. But, by remaining calm, it is more likely a disagreement will lead to a welcome resolution. If you start to feel like you’re losing control, remove yourself from the situation until you feel better able to continue in a more even-tempered manner.

  • Avoid raising your voice, name-calling, or making accusations. You don’t want the other person to stop listening or become defensive. Don’t let your disagreement deteriorate to the point where you’re merely attacking each other in a competitive, demeaning way.

  • Stay focused on the current issue. Be specific about what’s bothering you at the moment, without rehashing past behavior or actions. Unloading a stockpile of old grievances and hurt feelings will not help the current situation. Always try to address issues as they arise.

  • Try to state the problem clearly. Describe how it makes you feel. Our feelings are often at the heart of any disagreement. Feelings are genuine. They are real. But sometimes our feelings need to be explained so others can understand where our anger or hurt is coming from. It may help to use a phrase like “When you did ________, it made me feel __________.”

  • Let the other person speak and make sure to listen. Try to hear what that person is saying so you can better understand his or her point of view. Be careful not to interrupt. Try to restate what’s said in a way that lets the person know you heard the intended message and that you’re trying to understand his or her perspective.

  • Take ownership when appropriate. Be open to the fact that you may share a part in the problem at hand. Even when you feel completely “in the right,” step back and look for how your actions or words may have contributed to whatever is causing the disagreement.

  • Come up with specific solutions to the problem. Ask the other person to do the same. Be willing to compromise, but do so without settling for a resolution that leaves either person harboring ill feelings that may surface again in the future.

  • Never stand for abuse of any kind. Healthy conflict does not include emotional or physical mistreatment. Unfortunately, elder abuse and elder financial exploitation have become far too common. If you or someone you know falls victim to abuse, tell a trusted family member, friend, or physician. Do not wait.

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