Years back I saw a high powered, professional couple in San Francisco who went at each other’s throats, verbally speaking, twenty-four seven. Everything turned into an epic battle—whether the issue was eating meals, having sex, planning vacations, spending and saving money, decorating the house, rearing kids, or dealing with in-laws and ex-spouses. When they fought, they “kitchen sinked it,” revisiting one old hurt after another, and never resolving anything.
Thus far, nothing had helped them to calm down. Both claimed they were powerless to control their tempers. Then, a distinguished British professor came to stay with them as their houseguest for several months, living in a guest room adjacent to their bedroom. “During that time, we never raised our voices,” the wife told me. “We were pretty courteous with each other. Pride, I guess.” They both agreed it was the best several months of their marriage.
I wish I had a distinguished British houseguest to loan out to my high-conflict clients. It might be a useful exercise to imagine that you have one of your own. I certainly could have used one during those times in my marriage when I just cut loose. Like the couple in San Francisco, we might all learn that we’re capable of adjusting our behavior.
It’s all about motivation. Most couples have more control over fighting than they think they do.
What if you don’t have a distinguished British Houseguest handy at the moment? My first rule for fighting fair in Marriage Rules is this. Make Your Own Rules.
Make rules for how you as a couple will treat each other. Agree to follow them even in the heat of the moment. We often act as if the intensity of our anger gives us license to say or do anything, because, after all, we’re way to furious to be able to stop what’s coming out of our mouth! .
There’s no shortage of advice from experts about how to fight fair in marriage. I suggest you begin by sitting down with your partner and coming up with a few rules of your own. These might be, for example, “No yelling or name calling,“ “No bringing up past grievances during a fight” and “No bringing up problems at bedtime.” Many couples find it helpful to keep a written copy of the rules in a place where both will see it daily, like in your sock drawer.
Happy couples are not couples that don’t fight. Rather they’re couples that fight fair, and take responsibility for their own words and actions, no matter how furious they may feel inside.
Of course we can stop ourselves and behave better--that is if we have a genuine intention to have a better marriage. If you’ve read The Dance of Anger and Marriage Rules and you or your partner still can’t fight fair or keep your anger from getting out of control, it’s important to get professional help.