25 Rules for Enjoying a Family Fight

Enjoying a family fight

Wherever two people have a continuing relationship, there will eventually be conflict.  And whenever there is conflict, there can be only two outcomes: We will both hurt each other and create distance in our relationship; or we will build each other up and benefit from the experience by gaining knowledge and a greater connection with the other party.  It all depends on whether we fight wrong or fight right.


Here what you can do:

1. A gentle response defuses anger

Timely humor can be helpful, but of course joking, sarcasm or mocking comments only fuel the fire.

2. Avoid generalizing, exaggerating or catastrophizing

Saying “it’s all my fault” is disrespectful and manipulative. Playing the martyr is all about eliciting sympathy at the expense of resolution. Saying “never” or “always” often leads to the other party becoming defensive. Be genuine with your emotions.  Don’t use crying as a tool for manipulation.

3. Stay in the present and leave the past in the past

Focus on the immediate issue. Avoid using the phrase, “I remember when . . .” Don’t stockpile other issues or complaints to use as a weapon in the future.

4. Focus on the problem, not attacking the other person

This means sharing in way that the other party is more likely to receive the message. Don’t make judgments about the other person’s character, personality or label him/her. Don’t bring other people’s observations about the other party into the conversation.

5. When speaking, say “I Feel” rather than “You Should”

“I feel” statements allow your message to be heard in a non-attacking way. “You should” statements result in the wrong focus, anger and defensiveness.

6. Be willing to listen openly

This means hearing and reflecting back on the other person’s feelings in a validating way. We often listen better to strangers or acquaintances than we do our own family members.  They deserve our same respect despite our familiarity.

7. Don’t use the silent treatment

Becoming cold and distant devalues the other person and is passive-aggressive. It will only lead to more frustration and hostility for both parties.

8. Don’t avoid or dismiss the issue

Forms of this are: running away to mother’s house, substituting sexual contact for resolution, daydreaming, rationalizing or pouting. Take responsibility for initiating a conversation to resolve the issue.

9. Don’t stuff or compartmentalize your pain and anger

If the damn breaks, it can leave a wake of destruction! Remember that “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” If you become aware that the other party is saving up hurts, take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.

10. Pursue conflict resolution in a timely manner

In some situations, it may be wise to delay but that can also deepen the rift. Follow the principle of not ever going to bed angry.

11. Be wise in choosing the timing for discussing an issue

The best option is jointly choosing a time that provides the best opportunity for uninterrupted discussion. Don’t force the other person to discuss it because you just have to get it out. It is unwise to discuss an issue when either party may be tired, anxious or stressed. Avoid discussing an issue, especially one accompanied by intense emotions, around others.

12. Don’t attempt to resolve an issue if you are quick to anger

“If you stay calm, you are wise, but if you have a hot temper, you only show how foolish you are.”

13. Don’t Interrupt or retaliate if the other person is venting

Allow the other party the chance to completely voice his/her feelings or frustration. Try your best to avoid taking another person’s anger or frustration personally.  In other words, let him/her own it.

14. Develop healthy outlets for releasing strong emotions particularly anger

Releasing anger through physical exertion provides a better opportunity for resolution. When you are extremely angry or frustrated, try jogging, walking, cycling, weight lifting or any other type of exercise before tackling the problem.  Being in control of your emotions is essential for safe, mature and healthy communication.

15. Work on resolving one issue at a time

Be specific, succinct and transparent with your grievance. Don’t overwhelm the other person by unloading several complaints at once. Stay on-point until the issue is resolved. Don’t use issues others may have with this person or unrelated issues to bring greater emphasis to your complaint.

16. Don’t be a mind reader

Avoid predicting what someone may think, feel or say. We often jump to conclusions with those we know best instead of letting him/her have a fresh chance to share.

17. Never assume the other person can read your mind

Many spouses, because they know each other so well, expect the other person to automatically decide how they are feeling.

18. Don’t take shots “Below The Beltline”

Comments below the beltline are about revenge, not resolution. Time may heal clean wounds but soiled wounds fester and become infected. Avoid criticizing sore spots or areas out of the other person’s control. Measure the size of your grievance against the seriousness of the issue.

19. Honestly share what you really feel

Focus on the real problem not related or secondary issues.

20. Don’t withhold your affections nor your spouse’s privileges

Don’t try to punish your spouse by withholding acts of affection such as hand holding, kissing or hugging. For married couples, don’t use the denial of sexual intimacy as a threat or conflict weapon.

21. Accept responsibility when you are wrong and have humility when you are right

Validate legitimate complaints. When in the right, don’t “rub salt in the wound.” Don’t remind the other person that he/she should have listened better previously because you were right. It is more important to be in the right relationship than to be right.

22. Don’t complain without being willing to share a mutually beneficial solution

Ask for specific changes. Don’t demand that all your expectations be met at once. Be clear on what issues were resolved, what actions will be taken and who is responsible for each action.

23. Speak up when a rule is broken

Develop an atmosphere that encourages either party to speak up when a rule is broken. Respect each other enough to make the necessary correction.

24. Always be willing to forgive

Many things may irritate, annoy or upset us about someone else.  These things may require enduring and not forgiving. If an act can be excused, it may need to be understood rather than forgiven. Forgiveness is the foundation for reconciliation. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting to remember, but remembering to forget. When I say “I forgive you,” I declare that the issue between us is dead and buried.  I will not rehearse it, review it or renew it.

25. Look the other person in the eye

Good eye contact can greatly improve the quality of your communication. Good eye contact conveys respect to the person speaking. It is harder to commit a “foul” when you are looking the person you are hurting directly in the eyes.

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Sean R Sears
Counselor, MS, OMC
Sean is a member of the team of counselors at New Leaf Counseling Center in Kansas City, MO. Sean has been working with couples and families for over 20 years. He received his B.S. in Administration of Justice with an emphasis on juveniles/families from Wichita State University. He has a Master’s in Guidance and Counseling from Missouri State University. In addition, Sean has been an ordained minister for 13 years and is a certified Prepare/Enrich marital facilitator. He has worked with adolescents, couples and families while serving as the Director of a Residential Treatment Program, Director of a Leadership Training Program and as the head of Pastoral Care at a large church. He has provided pre-marital counseling and married a number of couples over the last several years. His greatest passion lies in helping couples and families experience restored relationships and healing.

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