Fight like an Adult.

I love a good fight. But not the punching, kicking, and hair pulling nonsense. Because let’s be honest, in any physical kind of fight, I’d pretty much be useless. I’m the one who would either cower in the corner or run like hell. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Unless we’re talking words. In that case, I’d fight all day long. I’m all about a battle of wits. Verbal sparring. This is what happens when you go the nerd route in high school and choose debate over sports.

Besides, everyone argues! We’re human. We get angry. We misunderstand. We disagree. In every relationship you ever have, there will be some sort of fight, whether over something trivial or serious, and you will need to work it out like an adult – with maturity and respect.

So there are rules. Like all the best things in life, there are dos and don’ts when it comes to the art of arguing. As someone who has been in her fair share of verbal fencing matches (the beauty of having five younger sisters and an outspoken mother who love arguing almost as much as I do), I can say there are a few things to avoid when in the midst of a heated fight, and a few things to keep in mind.

1. Be articulate. When you’re arguing with someone about something you’re passionate about or if you’re in a situation where you feel hurt by the person you are talking to, it’s so easy to become emotional and insensible. We begin to talk far too quickly, and those clever things we had planned in our mind do not translate well once they leave our mouths. We end up saying something we didn’t mean, or we just say the wrong thing, making matters worse. Choose your words carefully! And know that you can take your time to make sure you articulate your feelings so that your friend/partner/spouse understands where you’re coming from and what’s bothering you. Communication is key to any relationship, especially in a disagreement.

2. Face-to-face is best. It can be scary as hell. But trying to argue over text messaging, email, Facebook (really, no one should ever do that) is rarely productive. Some things are lost in translation when we write out the words. It’s hard to read tone and intent, and we can end up offending rather than appropriately explaining ourselves. And truly, it’s kind of cowardly. Granted, in some situations, you can’t have the face to face conversation, but it should never be a first choice, only a last resort.
I had two roommates (at separate times) who would write me letters or Myspace messages whenever they were upset about something I did. Never once would they come to me and tell me the problem. It always bothered me, like I wasn’t worth the effort of having a conversation. And it made me hostile, defensive, and any interaction afterwards was stilted. So step up, be mature, and talk it out in person.

3. Never resort to name-calling. I grew up with five sisters. We invented some pretty creative insults over the years, because we were never allowed to actually swear without invoking the wrath of the parents. So we skirted the line. And we were never more inventive with the name-calling than during a fight. Plus, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to channel the anger into petty names. We can be become so angry to the point we want to hurt the person’s feelings, so we say things we know will offend.
But nothing gets solved. Using cruel names only serves to isolate, anger, upset, or deeply hurt the person we are with. It’s petty and childish, are we are better than that. The moment we use our words to wound rather than to heal, we create distance rather than reconciliation. Choose to be respectful of the other person’s feelings.

4. It’s not about winning. I have a really bad tendency to see almost anything as a competition. And fighting is no different. I want to win the argument. I want to make the person see I’m right. I want to make them admit they were wrong. The problem with this approach is that I care less about coming to an resolution, and more about showing off my verbal skills. I want to confuse and awe them instead of working to understand, and that never ends well. The end result of a fight should be coming to a compromise. Winning isn’t a compromise. It makes the argument about you, not about both of you and your relationship and fixing what went wrong. Sometimes we need to step back and see that our wants don’t come first. And sometimes, we are in the wrong. Being an adult means realizing that.

5. Never walk away. One of my sisters (and she’ll probably call me when she reads this) always walks off while we’re fighting. Every time. And it irks me to no end (which is probably one of the reasons she does it, clever girl). But the result is that we never figure out what we’re upset about. We never resolve the issue or misunderstanding. It just sits there between us and grows, until we eventually end up having the same argument a few days, weeks, or even months later. Walking away only prolongs the fight, allowing the problem to fester and worsen. If you need to take a break, to allow some of the anger to dissipate, agree to come back later and work through the issue. Simply storming off in a move reminiscent of a temper tantrum does no good.

6. Grace and patience always. Fighting can leave us vulnerable. Sometimes the issues we’re facing, the disagreements that arise come from a dark place of insecurity. Sometimes it means admitting something we’d rather not talk about at all. But relationships are about honesty, even about the bad things, and we need to make sure our friend/partner/spouse understands that we love them first and foremost and are willing to take the time to really listen. We need to be gracious in the midst of the conflict and avoid judging and making assumptions. Judgment clouds our ability to see our partners side of the mess we’re in. Allowing grace and patience to be at the center of the disagreement means we recognize there are more important things than the fight.

In all honestly, I struggle with some of these. I have to work at them daily. But I believe that good communication is absolutely imperative to every relationship, whether it’s familial, platonic, or romantic. If we can’t take the time to explain our point of view and understand the point of view of those around us, the relationship can’t work. It will suffer under the frustration and confusion that comes when we fail to work at communicating. So even in the midst of a fight, or perhaps especially in the midst of a fight, we need to slow down, take a deep breath, and speak with love and patience.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter?

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