(This post was originally published 5-24-09).
This post is about my personal experience with The Love Dare. If you would like to learn more about The Love Dare, go here.
Day Eight: Love fights fair. Talk with your spouse about establishing healthy rules of engagement. If your mate is not ready for this, then write out your own personal rules to “fight” by. Resolve to abide by them when the next disagreement occurs. If your spouse participated with you, what was their response? What rules did you write for yourself?
From The Love Dare book:
¤¤¤ Like it or not, conflict in marriage is simply inevitable. When you tied the knot as bride and groom, you joined not only your hopes and dreams but also your hurts, fears, imperfections, and emotional baggage. From the moment you unpacked from your honeymoon, you began the real process of unpacking one another, unpleasantly discovering how sinful and selfish each of you could be.
Welcome to fallen humanity.
The storms of life began testing and revealing what you’re really made of. Work demands, health issues, in-law arguments, and financial needs flared up in varying degrees, adding pressure and heat to the relationship.
Every couple goes through it. It’s par for the course. But not every couple survives it.
So don’t think living out today’s dare will drive all conflict from your marriage. Instead, this is about dealing with conflict in such a way that you come out healthier on the other side. Both of you. Together.
The deepest, most heartbreaking damage you’ll ever do (or ever have done) to your marriage will most likely occur in the thick of conflict. That’s because this is when your pride is strongest. Your anger is hottest. You’re the most selfish and judgmental. Your words contain the most venom. You make the worst decision. A great marriage on Monday can start driving off the cliff on Tuesday if unbridled conflict takes over and neither of you has your foot on the brakes.
The wisest way to work through conflict is to learn to fight clean by establishing healthy rules of engagement. If you don’t have guidelines for how you’ll approach hot topics, you won’t stay in bounds when the action heats up.
Basically there are two types of boundaries for dealing with conflict “we” boundaries and “me” boundaries.
“We” boundaries are rules you both agree on beforehand, rules that apply during any fight or altercation. And each of you has the right to gently but directly enforce them if these rules are violated.
“Me” boundaries are rules you personally practice on your own.
Fighting fair means changing your weapons. Disagreeing with dignity. It should result in building a bridge instead of burning one down. Remember, love is not a fight, but it is always worth fighting for. ¤¤¤
If you’ve been reading through my experiences (and I hope you have!), you’ll have guessed that though we don’t have anything concrete or written down, Kevin and I certainly have our rules of engagement mapped out.
We’ve had to come to an agreement on certain issues beforehand because it’s so easy to dig out the “big guns” whenever we’re angry with one another.
And when those “big guns” are brought out, they are really hard to stuff back into place.
And word to the wise – figure out your rules of engagement BEFORE the argument begins – when you’re both calm and rational. Agree not to bring up, mention some things, or behave in a certain way whenever an argument breaks out.
Here are some “we” boundaries:
1. Never mention divorce
It’s simply NOT an option. You’re in this relationship for the long haul. You’ll work through this disagreement, somehow, at some point. Once you start entertaining thoughts of divorce, the idea worms itself into your rationale until at some point it explodes into a thousand tiny, sharp pieces of ugly reality and before long, you’ve given up on working it out and instead start preparing yourself to throw in the white towel.
Never mention it. Don’t ever entertain the thought of it. And if your spouse ever brings it up, refuse to discuss it. “Don’t go there” works.
Trust me. 🙂
2. Don’t bring up old, unrelated items from the past
It’s just an excuse to bitch and it’s an obvious attempt to steer the argument from the real issue (unless that IS the real issue at which time you need to openly discuss those old issues and work out an agreement, or work past the past – but only during a more calm moment).
Seriously. Keep the current argument on track. Offer to discuss past issues at another time. Right now, you only have the time and energy for the current issue.
3. Never fight in public or in front of our children
I agree with the never fighting in public – it does nothing but humiliate and degrade a person and that only adds to current insults. Besides, no one likes to see, or witness, another couple’s dirty laundry (unless you work for a low-life tabloid, but whatever). It’s also hard to concentrate on the issue at hand when you’re also battling being on public display.
But the fighting in front of the children thing … yes and no. Being perfect and happy all the time in front of our children is unrealistic and I think it sets an unhealthy precedence for future relationships for our children. It’s good for children to see their parents argue, from time-to-time, as long as they also see the parents make up and move on.
But that’s arguing. The rule says no fighting – and that’s definitely a different animal. Fighting assumes ugly insults, cursing and very unbecoming behavior; children should not see that. And often times the more serious fights can’t be resolved quickly; the tougher issues take a while to work through.
So yes, if a serious fight breaks out, take it behind closed doors, please.
4. Call a “time out” if conflict escalates to a damaging level
Agree to stop the fighting and go to your respective corners (which often means separate rooms in the house – or even take a drive around the neighborhood to cool off), if things get out of hand.
I’ve actually made the “time out” hand signals before to signify I was losing control and we needed a break – from each other.
It’s a good idea to resume the “discussion” after you’ve had a chance to cool off – don’t let it fester.
5. Never, ever, touch each other in anger
This one is pretty self-explanatory but it does bear repeating. Sometimes our words and feelings get trapped inside of us and we’re so frustrated and determined to release them that we physically lash out.
Kevin and I have never struck one another, but we (yes both of us), have thrown things at each other.
And we felt like terrible fools afterwards.
Just don’t go there. Take that time-out before it reaches that level.
6. Don’t go to bed angry with each other
This one is hard. At least for me. Because I NEED that time, alone, to get a hold of my emotions.
But in essence, it’s saying don’t sweep the problem under the rug, don’t allow it to fester so that it becomes an even bigger deal the next time a disagreement crops up.
Try and resolve the issue before you go to bed. If you can’t, at least agree to discuss the issue at a later time.
7. Failure is not an option. Whatever it takes, work it out
That attitude will help give you the determination and resolve to work out issues.
8. Never, ever, EVER say “I love you BUT …”
I’m adding this one because it’s a personal pet peeve of mine. When you say “I love you, BUT…” you’re putting conditions on that love. And don’t just say it when you’re angry, NEVER say it, period. Even though your spouse knows what you mean, subconsciously, the seed of doubt has been planted.
“Oh, they only love me when things are good.” Or, “they only love me when I behave a certain way.”
No, no, no. Don’t say it. Reserve the “I love yous” for those special, isolated moments. Never throw that in when you’re expressing your irritation with the situation or something he/she did that provoked a reaction from you.
If you’re going to reaffirm you love someone, then leave it at that.
“I love you.”
Stop. Say no more.
Here are some examples of “me” boundaries:
1. I will listen first before speaking
Shush. Let the other person speak before offering your thoughts. It shows respect and often times, clarifies a situation – speaking rashly only exasperates the original problem which only adds fuel to the fire.
2. I will deal with my own issues up-front
Be honest with yourself first. If you have issues that are affecting the marriage, confront them, work through them and absolutely acknowledge them – especially if they affect your attitude toward your relationship.
3. I will speak gently and keep my voice down
Which is hard, especially when you’re upset. But remember the old saying, “You can attract more flies with honey?” Seriously, it’s true. It’s hard to absorb something when it’s being shouted in your face because people tend to focus on the anger and be put on the defensive as opposed to the issue behind the anger and the willingness to resolve the issue.
Please don’t assume that I’m an expert on any of this stuff. I’m simply passing my experiences on to you in the hopes that it blesses you and helps you with your own relationships. I’m not saying that my relationship is perfect, nor will it ever be perfect, but we’ve been together for 21 years (married for nearly 19 of those years) and to say I’ve learned a few things about myself specifically and relationships in general would be putting it mildly.
Good luck with your rules of engagement. 🙂