No marriage will be free from disagreements, arguments, and passionate fights. The English writer G.K. Chesterton even called marriage "a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline." Marriage is the union of two individual people, and thus it is inevitable that your views will not always be the same.
Fortunately, there are some important ground rules you can set and follow to ensure that your arguments are respectful and ultimately move your relationship forward, instead of resulting in grudges, hurt feelings, and even divorce.
5 Rules For A Fair Fight With Your Spouse
Your English teacher will tell you to always put others first, such as "you" before "I" in a sentence. When engaged in an argument, however, avoid using the word "you" at the beginning of a statement. Start your sentences by referring to yourself.
This may seem like a trite thing to remember, but it will shape the nature of how you discuss your problem. "I feel lonely when you play video games all evening," is much less accusatory than "You seem to want to play video games instead of spending time with me." In the second statement, you are making an assumption about the other person's thought process. In the first sentence, you are stating how you feel, seeking understanding from your partner.
Think about how you feel when others tell you how they think that you feel, think, or make decisions. This naturally makes you angry as it crosses a personal boundary; your mind is your own, and those assumptions may be very wrong. Anything that makes you angrier during an argument is going to make things escalate quickly.
Never Say Always
Beware using absolutes. Never and always imply a hard and fast rule that can seldom be entirely true. "We never go out any more," is in most cases not true; never is an absolute word that unnecessarily exaggerates the situation. "You always put work over family time," is an example of a statement that sweeps away any acknowledgement of those times when your spouse did, in fact, act otherwise.
We humans may be creatures of habit, but that does not mean that we are so consistent that 100% of the time we do the same exact thing. When describing your partner's behavior with absolutes, it can make them feel that you do not appreciate those times when they did act differently, and will put them on the defensive. Once either of you get defensive, it becomes harder to stay on the topic of your disagreement.
Stay On Topic
Disagreements lead to arguments, which can become fights. Make sure you both understand what matter is at the heart of the disagreement; if you are not sure, take a deep breath and state your feelings on a particular matter. Ask questions of each other until you identify exactly where your viewpoints differ. Once you have identified the problem, continue to discuss the matter without losing sight of it.
If you feel like you are losing ground, do not try to switch topics, or bring up past disagreements where your spouse was in error. That will not win you the current argument, but it will escalate it into a full blown fight quickly.
Don't Put On A Show
Never fight in front of an audience, especially family members and kids. It is not polite, and it does not serve to make a solution easier. Rather, the feeling of embarrassment and shame can push your feelings beyond your control.
If you do have a passionate disagreement in front of your children, make sure they see you resolve the matter. You may even want to discuss the process and the resolution with your children so that you set a positive example for their future relationships.
Listen. Don't Just Hear
Actively listen to your spouse, don't just wait to talk when they are talking. Affirm their feelings or observations by restating in your words what they said, acknowledging their point of view. For example, "I'm sorry you feel hurt when I don't call from work when I'm running late."
Saying you are sorry does not always mean you're wrong; it can be a powerful statement in showing you empathize with their feelings. Of course, when you are wrong, or make an emotionally charged statement in an argument, apologize sincerely to keep the disagreement a discussion and not a shouting match.
If one of you forgets these rules for fighting fair, the other should remind them in a calm voice to stay on topic, not use absolutes, or to please use "I" statements. Do not use an infraction of the rules as more ammunition that the other person is wrong. After all, when feelings and passions are running high, it is easy to forget yourself. When followed, these rules can make your disagreements reach a practical solution more smoothly or quickly.