If it weren’t for marriage men and women would fight with total strangers.

                                                        —Anonymous

    A relationship without conflicts is unusual, and may even be unhealthy.  While conflict is uncomfortable, it is also normal.  It signifies that each partner in the relationship is strong enough to assert his or her own will.  Of course this is all a matter of degree.  There are various patterns of relating in which conflict is avoided or reduced, but often at a high emotional cost: where one partner gives up on equally sharing control or power in order to keep the peace.  

    Each couple has its own unique way of beginning and engaging in a conflict.  The amount of resentment built up and personal individual history determines the “temperature” of that personal connection.  There are couples that are hot and only a small spark detonates an explosive confrontation; whereas other couples seem only to smoke and smolder without ever entering a real argument.

Conflict generates is anger; anger does not need to be hurtful.

     The challenge is to have a conflict where the opposing positions are clearly stated; a resolution is reached with some degree of compromise and no permanent damage is done to either person or the union between them. Each healthy conflict is like a single word in an ongoing negotiation between partners, ever re-arranging their togetherness as they change and hopefully mature.  So controlled conflicts should not be avoided; they propel couples forward in growth provided the conflicts are safely resolved.  

    The following 11 rules, if followed, help to keep arguments constructive, safe and under control:

1. No name calling, threatening remarks, or violence is allowed.
2. No put downs or personal attacks are allowed.
3. No threats of ending the relationship are allowed.
4. Take turns. Listen attentively without interruption when the other is talking.
5. Try to enter into conflict when the problem is still new and small.
6. Stay focused only on the issue that caused the conflict.
7. Stay in the present without bringing up past events. One issue at a time.
8. Stick to positive, constructive language that expresses what is wanted or needed.
9. State what you want to be different.
10. Develop a plan of action.
11. Create a standing agreement that if things get too hot, you two will separate for a predetermined length of time.  This should be no longer than an hour. Return precisely at that time ready to discuss the issue more calmly.

Enter conflicts boldly. To become skilled at fair fighting takes practice.

Andrew Aaron, LICSW