Learning to fight fair in marriage and divorce

It is commonly thought that the sign of a healthy relationship is one that is free from conflict. But most mental health professionals would disagree with that assertion. If a couple experiences no conflict whatsoever, it could be a sign that neither partner is invested in the relationship.

Instead, therapists say, couples should work on “fighting fair” rather than avoiding conflict altogether. The skills needed to have healthy fights are not easily learned. But they are valuable throughout the relationship, even if a couple ends up getting divorced.

In a recent Huffington Post column, Dr. Gail Gross discusses the “rules of engagement” couples need to follow in order to have healthy fights. Those rules include:

  • Picking a neutral location free from power imbalances and sex dynamics
  • Always showing mutual respect for one another
  • Giving each partner equal time to speak
  • Avoiding the urge to defend yourself or to insult your partner
  • Establishing boundaries and honoring them

All relationships will experience conflict at times. Learning how to fight in a healthy way can greatly increase the odds of long-term marital success. But even if a couple decides that the relationship no longer works and that divorce is necessary, it is still important to fight fair.

Even as you go through the divorce process, your relationship isn’t finished. Rather, you now need to negotiate a divorce settlement that meets the needs of both you and your former spouse. If you have children and will be sharing child custody, you will begin a new relationship as co-parents, which is challenging in and of itself.

Being cooperative and cool-headed during the divorce process can reduce stress, save time/money and be more likely to result in mutually beneficial outcomes. Fighting fair isn’t always easy or intuitive, but it is almost always worth the effort.

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