The art of fighting fair in relationships
Q: My family has been under sustained stress for the last five years — moves, job losses, and medical issues with our parents and grown siblings. My husband doesn't fight fair — he gets nasty and makes personal attacks. I have been at a loss about how to handle this constructively.
My therapist recently recommended a book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman. It is a bit repetitive, and sort of self-help-y. But it has been really effective at helping me recognize what is reasonable to say and do in these situations, and more important, how to nurture the really good parts of our relationship while we face these issues. Just wanted to pass that along.
A: Thanks! The Gottman Institute has been on my radar for years. The breakthrough in his/their work is recognizing that contempt is what breaks a marriage (even when the couple technically stays together). I haven't seen anything in my years of mail-reading to contradict that finding.
I'm glad the book has been effective, and grateful for the chance to mention it — it has been a while.
Anonymous: Could you offer some insight as to what fighting fair entails?
Carolyn: Short version: Fighting fair means discussing the area of disagreement versus attacking the person you disagree with. "You always ... "; "You never ... "; "There you go again ... "; "What are you, stupid?"-type attacks are anathema to intimacy.
Timely: Do you think political parties could take a few lessons on fighting fair?
Carolyn: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Ha.