Fair Fighting: 7 Steps

Jenny and her husband George both said, “we never fight,” like it was a good thing. We explored further why they didn’t fight and found out that they didn’t really know how to fight fair, so they all but gave themselves an emotional hernia trying not to. However, what they did do on the rare occasion they met with disagreement is give in immediately to the other’s point of view and resented it silently for days, weeks, and even years.

Fair fighting is a must for a healthy relationship to exist, and those who do it well and employ the following guidelines, will increase their chances greatly of having a long and loving time together.

  1. No laundry list. The past must stay in the past. Fighting in a functional way consists of staying current with our issues and conflicts. Confrontations must be about what is happening in the present, i.e. what you are upset, angry, frustrated or hurt by what was said or done, not said or done yesterday, last night, this morning, etc. When people fight and keep referencing the past hurts, slights, a wound there is no way out of this verbal, emotional, and damaging cul-de-sac.
  2. Abusive language must never be used. No one has the right to curse another regardless of the issue at hand. While writing a letter expressing your anger and rage is acceptable, it must never be sent. Telling a friend or therapist about your issues and using strong language can even be advisable, but face to face, the language must not be abusive.
  3. Putting agreed-upon limits on the fair fight is highly advisable. Example: Let’s talk about this for thirty minutes, and if we have not reached an acceptable resolution, then we will take it back up tomorrow, and then following through with the agreement.
  4. Getting rid of the word, “You.” When most people disagree or argue they often pull out this word, cock it, and fire it straight at the heart of their loved one. “You” should, “You” ought to, why didn’t “You?” “You” can’t handle the truth, etc. The word “you” always creates defensiveness in the listener.
  5. Use the word, “I”. As I said before, “Intimacy begins with ‘I’.” In fair fighting I am going to tell you how I feel, what I think, what I need to change, what I want to happen.
  6. Fair fighters never bring the other person’s parents and their childhood into the discussion. This is off limits. I can tell my partner about my dysfunctional childhood, but I am to never tell her about her’s unless she specifically asks for my take on them.
  7. If you recognize that you are regressed and catch yourself before doing too much damage, you take a time out and “grow yourself backup” (see my book Growing Yourself Back Up: Understanding Emotional Regression), and then come back to the subject at hand thinking, speaking, and acting like a mature adult.Many men and women are conflict-avoidant because they do not know how to express anger and hurt in a functional way so they gunny-sack, stuff, swallow, or repress until they explode or implode. Learning how to express anger appropriately increases the likelihood you will be heard and thus arrive at a solution to the distress.

 

For more information on expressing anger appropriately, see The Anger Solution: The Proven Method for Achieving Calm and Developing Healthy, Long-Lasting Relationships or Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately.

Boundaries

WE HAVE TO WATCH OUT WHERE WE’RE GOING: Boundary Errors and Boundary Violations

First, a boundary is “This is how close you can come to me:” physically, spiritually, in conversations about love or money, etc.

A “boundary error” is when someone, whether friend or foe, has crossed over into my space, my yard, my soul, or my pasture because they didn’t notice the “No Trespassing” sign or signal. As the poet William Stafford says, “The signals we give should be clear. The darkness around us is deep.” Or, as Robert Frost less dramatically put it, “Good fences make good neighbors.” A boundary error is simply a mistake, made, more or less, innocently. When informed, the perpetrators can see or hear their errors and can apologize and vow to be respectful in the future.

On the other hand is the “boundary violation.” This is committed when a person has been informed and warned, often numerous times, what your particular boundaries are in a certain situation, but keeps pushing and pressing in on the boundaries you have communicated. This is when the person will not respect those boundaries and, to some lesser or greater degree, knows that it irritates you, frustrates you, or makes you angry. This person might justify and rationalize their unwanted behavior and say that they are just “teasing,” “playing,” or “kidding” while telling you to “lighten up.” In truth, the above behaviors are just passive-aggressive pebbles in your shoe as you walk through the relationship. Or, worse violations feel like boulders on your head or stabs to the heart.

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What to do and what to say depends on who it is and in what context you feel those errors or violations are committed. Generally, boundary errors get committed once and are willingly corrected. Boundary violators get two warnings, and on the third time you may have to start rethinking your relationship to the violator, whether a boss, friend, family, lover, or spouse.

The really sad thing is that many people don’t know what boundaries are, don’t have very good boundaries themselves, and often confuse boundaries with walls. Where good boundaries exist, walls are not necessary. Boundaries—done appropriately—increase intimacy and communication, and reduce conflict and confrontations.

Here are a few common examples. People think that it is okay to talk about other peoples’ bodies. I have a beautiful friend who gets told by complete strangers, “You’re too thin!” or, “Are you eating enough?” Pregnant women get their bellies touched by complete strangers. Babies get pinched on the cheek. One friend had to stop a woman he’d never even seen before from putting a sock back on his very young son.

The real remedy? Ask before touching. Get information. Don’t assume—you know what that does. Tell folks your boundaries and tell them when they’ve committed errors so they won’t turn into violations, and get really acquainted with your own boundaries.

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Passivity – Part II

Identifying Passivity

Passivity is a compulsion or learned tendency to live at half-speed regarding certain segments of their life. Almost no-one reading this is “purely” passive but rather exhibiting passive tendencies which ultimately leaves people feeling their life or career glass is half-empty and thus halfheartedly committing to projects, plans and goals. Passive people are half in and half out of relationships. The passive person who suffers the effects of a half-lived life is more attached to not having what they think they want or desire, even though they protest loudly this is not so.

A client of mine, James, is 40 and a very successful real estate agent who earns a high six-figure income. During a session he said, “I work all the time on my marriage. I’m in therapy, I read books and I regularly attend self-help workshops. No one can say I’m passive.” When asked about his marriage he quickly replied, “I want more physical contact, more touching and yes, more sex, but I hardly get any at all.”

James wants his wife, Brenda, to be more affectionate and yet he indulges in a whole host of behaviors that guarantees he won’t get this and actually gets him just the opposite of what he thinks and says he wants.

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I asked him to give me an example of his efforts to get affection from his wife so I could see and show him his passivity and addiction to not having what he says he wants.

James said, “I go into the living room all the time and Brenda is on the couch watching television for hours on end. I say something like, ‘Can’t you turn that thing off for a little while? There’s nothing intelligent or worth watching on TV. I don’t know why you watch these silly shows.’ But she never agrees and I end up storming out of the room frustrated as usual.”

I jokingly said, “How’s that working for you?” Then I offered a suggestion. “Try sitting on the living room couch next to her; gently lifting her legs and placing them on your lap while you massage her feet, instead of shaming, criticizing, demeaning and judging her. Then simply ask her what’s on that you two can watch together.”

He looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign tongue; in a way it was an unfamiliar language because it was the language of compassion and assertiveness.

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James looked a little dumbfounded. “No, I have never even thought of it. It sounds so simple. Why didn’t this ever occur to me before?” he said very seriously.

It was because of his passivity and his fears of rejection, abandonment and intimacy.

By the way, he tried my suggestion the very next week. “We got up off the couch ten minutes after doing what you suggested. She looked at me and said ‘Who are you?’ Before I could answer she laughed and said, ‘Never mind, I like this,’ and we got up and got in bed and made love for the first time in a year.”

This same man devoted an exorbitant amount of time to reading about relationships and marital counseling. He said he worked all the time on his marriage. But in reality, he thought his wife had the problem and not him.

Passivity then is an offense of omission—not doing or saying what you need to, not responding, not accepting challenges and refusing to take risks—rather than commission and that is one reason why it has been overlooked by clinicians and writers.

 

Passivity compels people to wait in a state of suspended animation until something or someone outside themselves “rescues” them from their current circumstances which would then allow them to have the full life that has been eluding them. This knight in shining armor (whether a person, the world, society or a supernatural being) is supposed to bring the passive person something they feel they have lost or had taken from them. That something could be hope, energy, love, trust or faith. It could mean a perfect job, an unconditional lover, winning the lottery or having good parents. It is a psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual condition that plagues even the most educated and self-directed people and therefore the whole person must be addressed.

Passivity pushes people to replay the feelings and memories they’ve stored in their brains and bodies possibly for decades. One of those feelings is the feeling of “Not Having What We Really Want or Need.”

For further information and insights into passivity please see John’s book

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The Half-Lived Life: Overcoming Passivity and Rediscovering Your Authentic Self. Lyon’s Press, 2011.

Passivity – Part I

Solving the Problem of Passivity

Passivity is the compulsion to pursue the opposite of what we say we want. This compulsion left unidentified and dealt with leaves us unfulfilled at best, sabotages success and at worst depressed, hopeless and feeling victimized.

“I don’t care. Whatever you want is fine with me.”

“It is not the job I want but in this economy you really can’t be choosy.”

“He’s not perfect but I’m thirty-five years old. Nobody’s perfect. I’m sure we will grow into love.”

“I’d love to write. I’ve always dreamed someday I’d write but I have kids and a job. Not everybody gets their dreams to come true. Maybe when I retire…”

“I can’t believe what is going on in Washington these days. They are all idiots and con men. But there’s nothing an average Joe like me can do about it.”

“Go ask your father. If he says yes, then it’s okay.”

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

“It’s just not in the cards.”

“It’s not God’s will.”

“I guess I’m just unlucky.”

“Some people get all the breaks.”

“It is what it is.”

Does any of the above ring a bell? If they do you may have some areas in life where passivity rules your attitudes, behaviors, personality and decisions. Perhaps you have settled for less than you felt you deserved or you “adapted” to your present situation or relationship rather than changing them. Did you “cop out,” give up, quit and become hopeless and helpless feeling like you were a victim of fate rather than a creator of your own destiny?

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Unfortunately, many people have developed a greater connection to loss and feeling less than; they settle for unfulfilling relationships or careers that never quite achieve their creative potentials. Surviving, rather than thriving, has become the state that many of us are not only used to but are compelled to pursue.

As one highly successful surgeon said to me who was growing increasingly wary of settling said, “I always feel I am half the husband, half the father, half the friend and half the doctor I know I can be even though I’m considered to be very successful in my field.”

I said, “It sounds like you are living a half-lived life.”

“Exactly! But I am fifty years old. I don’t want to say this at sixty or seventy. I want the second half of my life to be a much fuller, satisfying life, but I’m not sure how.”

I’ll tell you what I told him. By coming out of denial, identifying the parts of your life where passivity prevails, working with the origins of your passivity, becoming aware of the signs and behaviors and acquiring new, but tried and tested tools, information and insights that will serve as solutions you can fully engage life, work, relationships, creativity, parenting, grand-parenting and much more.

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