How to Fight Fair: The Rules of Engagement
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Marriage Challenge #3: Fight Fair!
My mother is to thank for the idea that every marriage needs rules for fighting. I can’t remember how old I was when my mom shared this story with me, but it did stick with me all these years later.
“Mom, where is Daddy? Did he go somewhere?”I asked one summer afternoon.
She gives me a funny look, pauses a for a few seconds, pats the empty spot beside her and says, “Come here.”
I immediately go and sit next to her on the couch. My young brain doesn’t understand the full magnitude of the truth she is about to share or how much I would come to respect her transparency later in life, but I did know I loved these moments when it was just us. She sure could tell a good a story. When these moments happened, you set up and paid attention, it was about to get good.
“Well…” she said. “Your daddy and I had an argument and I guess he needed some time to get over it. You know, it doesn’t matter how much you love each other, you will have disagreements. It takes some time to figure out how to navigate arguments when you are married. Sometimes we just have to give each other some space. When we had our first big fight, your daddy grabbed his keys and started toward the door. I told him, "If you get in your car and leave, don’t bother coming back.”
“What did he do?” I ask.
“Well, he dropped the keys on the counter and took a long walk instead. Don't worry about us, he will be back inside later. We will talk it out.”
Rule Number 1: Never leave the house angry.
I love that my mom had the guts and spunk to tell my dad if he left the house angry, it would be a big mistake. I think on a deeper level, she knew she couldn’t handle that kind of rejection. Women want and crave unconditional love. When you get in your car and leave during an argument, it puts doubt in the heart of the one left behind. Will you come back? What are you doing while you are away?
Stewart and I hadn’t been married too long when our first big fight happened. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I do remember Stewart grabbing his keys, and me running to the door and saying, “ No...don’t leave, you can go outside, but please don’t get in your car and leave while we are fighting.”
Later that day, after we had made-up, I told him about what my mom said to my dad long ago. Stewart and I sat on the porch swing that afternoon and came up with our own rules of engagement. I added the first rule, never drive away from the house in a middle of a “discussion”.
We only put two more rules on the table.
Rule Number 2: Never say the “D” word.
Divorce is not an option. The word may not be used in a fight... period. We all know we say things we don’t mean from time to time in the midst of a fight when your emotions are running high. So, it is wise to make up your mind beforehand to never threaten to leave or throw the “D” word on the table in the climax of a fight. Obeying this rule will help you keep the argument from escalating and help you discuss the issue at hand.
Rule Number 3: Do not bring up a past argument in the middle of the current issue.
This is especially important for women. Let’s face it, ladies, we can talk circles around our husbands. If we are not careful, we can suddenly start throwing grenades about past grievances that can leave our husbands shell-shocked. Breaking this rule can lead to a longer more turbulent fight.
You must deal with the issue at hand and resist the urge to “win” the argument. It is more about solving the issue, not winning.
I am most tempted to break this rule! Maybe it is the teacher or writer in me, but when you have a good example that will back up your point my instinct is to- use it! Wrong! Don’t use it in a fight! No one likes to be reminded of past mistakes. We all want to be judged on who we are now in the moment, not who were last week, last month, or last year.
God is showing me that maybe this rule is the hardest for me because I wasn’t extending to Stewart the same kind of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God is showing to me. Marriage is supposed to represent the love and sacrifice of the Lord. Forgiveness and redemption is the heart of the bible. God is teaching me that forgiveness and redemption should be the theme of my marriage too. Every marriage will have disagreements and fights, but how we fight has the possibility to grow our character and relationship with each other and God. Take the time to create your own rules of engagement and stick to the rules. Fight fair!