This post's title is a misnomer because there is rarely a justification to fight. Aside from a threat to your immediate safety, the protection of a child or some other dire circumstance, fighting is a no no.
Perhaps a better title would be, "How to disagree with people in a way that preserves and, ideally, strengthens everyone involved."
I am always stunned when seemingly good people turn bad when faced with conflict. They fail to grasp the correlation between escalation of hostility and relationship destruction. They are blind to the fact that one cannot harm another without ultimately harming oneself.
Some see no fault in attacking loved ones and expect them to remain in the relationship, but when destructive behavior is directed at someone with a high sense of self-worth, the relationship will perish. Nastiness drives healthy people away. Consequently, a dirty fighter's life is filled with people who are equally as destructive or too weak to walk away.
Love is a verb, something one does, and conflicts present a tremendous opportunity to practice loving. Real love cares and protects. Love calls on us to handle disagreements in a way that encourages the expression of both parties' perspectives and feelings while, at all costs, refraining from causing harm.
Conflict is a part of life and ALL relationships have some measure of it. Relationships are often only as strong as the parties' conflict resolution abilities.
Resolution does not always mean that a relationship is returned to a former state. It may mean agreeing to walk away permanently. Loving someone is not always synonymous with making them happy. It means refraining from intentionally causing them damage.
Sometimes, when the sun has set on a relationship's time, ending a relationship causes hurt feelings. Yet, when viewed with a bit of altitude, leaving is far more loving than remaining in an unwanted relationship. The suffocating death of a drawn out ending causes far more suffering for all.
In all conflicts, it is important to remember that whatever venom one puts into the universe will return magnified. Plan for the future by refraining from causing harm in the present. The healthy goal of any disagreement is to create an acceptable outcome that is both self-loving and loving of the other person, whenever possible, and that is most of the time.
10 Tenets of Fighting Fair
Don't react or respond while angry.
Anger interferes with clear and compassionate thinking. Let some time pass and do what it takes to help yourself reach a state of peaceful confidence before responding.
Stick to the present facts.
"You were such a jerk last week."
"Remember when you did ____ and _____ and ______."
"If I were ________________ you'd never act this way."
"Did your ex allow game night every week?"
"I knew this was going to happen, you always create trouble like this."
Remember your goal: to create an acceptable outcome that is both self-loving and loving of the other person. Throwing the past, irrelevant facts, or criticisms at the other person serves only to distract from the matter at hand and widen the divide.
Never make comparisons.
"Well, Mary does it and she doesn't mind, so you shouldn't either."
"My parents would never have done it this way."
"John got Carol one for her birthday."
Comparisons substitute the feelings, actions or situations of people unrelated to the issue, for the feelings of the people in conflict. This doesn't help to resolve anything, instead it attempts to dissuade a person from their position by undermining them. Bullying or guilting someone into changing their position based on what others do means only that a person has acquiesced on the surface. Inside, their feelings are still present; they feel un-cared for and unheard.
Loose lips sink ships - seek advice from a trusted source, if necessary, otherwise keep your mouth shut.
People, especially couples in trouble, often tell others about their problems. Seeking advice from a trusted confidant (mentor, counselor, therapist, parent etc.) who's handled similar situations before can be helpful. Trashing, gossiping about or assassinating the character of the person you're in a disagreement with may seem to make one feel better, more right in their position, or that they've bonded with someone else. In fact, this behavior only plants negativity in the future, widens the divide between the people in conflict, and identifies the loud mouth as destructive and a gossip. Most healthy people are keen on the fact that what one does to another, they will do to anyone.
Don't speak from fears or insecurities.
Bob used to be the CEO of a major corporation. When the economy contracted, his company folded and let him go. This fall from grace has taken it's toll, Bob feels humiliated, he's struggling financially, and afraid that his best days are behind him. Desperate to earn an income, he starts a small business. Mike, a friend who also owns a small business, asks if he can help Bob with some aspects of his new venture. Bob sees Mike's offer as an undermining attack on his knowledge and abilities. He lashes out at Mike telling him that he is more than capable of handling his business and resents Mike's attempt to intrude. Stunned by Bob's irrational response, Mike withdraws and ends the relationship. (True Story)
Instead of responding as a friend, Bob let his insecurity take over. Maintaining awareness of oneself, watching what is happening in the mind and body, as an observer, creates the clarity to notice when fear or insecurity take over.
Refrain from assigning labels, making judgments and name calling.
"You don't get it, you're clueless."
"If you weren't so fat or stupid . . ."
"You are just like your father."
NOTHING good can come of statements like these; they only incite more upset and encourage a healthy person to walk away.
Avoid all things mean, no matter what.
You recognize mean when you see it.
"You're a piece of *&^%."
"Get over it."
"I don't need you."
"Cry some more."
Refrain from belittling, manipulating and attempting to goad others.
"You're a bad person. Only a bad person would do these things."
"Oh you're such a wimp, if you act like this you'll never succeed in the real world."
"You're lucky to know me. I'm the best thing that ever happened to you."
Stick to what you know --your feelings and your perspective.
"I really think that paying down debt is more important that buying a big screen right now. I want us to be more financially secure and delay this purchase."
"When you said you'd ________ and didn't, I felt ___________. From my perspective it seemed like you were _______________."
"When you came home drunk I was angry and disappointed. It was very hard on me and hurt me deeply. I want us to set a healthy example for our children and I am unwilling to remain together if it happens again." (mean it)
When the other person fails to fight fair, refuse to partake. In this moment there are two choices: escalate or withdraw. Remember that the venom you spew will return to you and your highest obligation is to love, that expressly includes self-love. When a conflict becomes toxic, end it, swiftly and politely.
In a heated moment, this can be quite challenging. The ego craves a fight, it thrives on battles of one-upmanship and destruction, but when one successfully overrides this impulse and walks free it is infinitely rewarding.
Relationships between people who fight fairly are enduring, trust-filled and secure. Every conflict possesses the power to bring people closer together, stronger and more connected. The intimacy that results from conflicts lovingly overcome is the stuff of lifelong, healthy relationships.
Blessedly, one who becomes aware of their dirty fighting habits can change them. It's a tremendous gift to all.
Do you fight fairly?
~ Cynthia Occelli