Rules of Engagement

You mother…you son of a…you, you, you. Finger wagging. Name calling. Hurt. Anger, borderline rage. Do these sound familiar in your arguments? A good argument is one that hashes out the issues, with emotion, love, and some compromise. The Chad and I did not always fight fair. The aforementioned lists some of our verbal boxing. Our arguments were knock down, drag out fights ending in more hurt and increased feelings of insecurity. We were young, dumb, and unarmed with proper tools. Not until about year six or seven of our marriage did we learn the proper rules of engagement with any conflict, argument and or fight. Today I had an amazing conversation with one of our pastors as we discussed how people deal with problems by not dealing, and by not dealing with the issue is their answer to dealing. Confused yet? Our conversation was the muse for this post.

When today is a good day our problems are null, we can make it, all is well. The reality is that we only release the aggravation, frustration, top layer of hurt that has been suppressed and oppressed, the core of the issue still lies in waiting under the surface. The Chad and I used to think because we blew the top off the volcano that things were resolved, if not temporarily.

We would scream our point of view, the louder we yelled the more our point was put across, at least that is how we reasoned with our unreasonable actions. Other times we were like pressure cookers, holding back all our emotions and feelings because damnit, the other person should read my mind and my body language, harumph. Sadly our ESP abilities have yet to evolve, so we relied heavily on our broken form of communication which would even result to petty threats of divorce.

Pump the brakes, divorce? How did we get there? Our thoughts exactly.

The hurts we brought with us from our past, from our families, previous relationships, these insecurities  fueled divorce being an option for us when we would fight, bicker and argue. What we were doing was absolutely damaging, creating more insecurity, hurt, and not promoting a relationship of unconditional love. Until one day we were given rules.

Sounds silly to have rules, but in the brilliant advice of Sun Tzu you have to have tactics, strategy and rules. So the rules of engagement were created when we had a disagreement, fight, boxing matching of wills. These rules could apply to any situation, siblings, work, you name it.

  1. No name calling!

Easy enough right? Nope. Even as adults we can lose our cool and revert to childish ways. Next thing we know we are slinging vitriol from our tongues like angry serpents. Words that cut like daggers into our loving hearts where the words cut deeper than any wound of the flesh.

2. Divorce is off the table!

For some of us that is the easy out. We use divorce like name calling. An advantageous one up to our opponent. Throw out divorce and you have set off an emotional grenade where you feel like the victor, but each of you have lost a bit of yourselves in the transgression. (Kids can have this apply by avoiding saying “I hate you”)

3. No accusations!

Everything is about your feelings. Arguments and fights stem from some sort of pent up or oppressed feelings where one, or both parties, does not feel enough trust to communicate healthily their emotions to the other person. Emotions are like hidden treasures for some people, they tuck them away so no one hurts or damages them again because their previous experience seems irreparable. Emotions are what WE own, no one person can make us feel a certain way, however things that are said can fire our insecurities that “make us feel” a certain way. Those are still our feelings, no one makes you feel sadness, however their actions caused sadness. Clear as mud? Great! So never accuse the other person, explain how you feel because of an event. For example, “I felt like you were not listening to me.” Whereas the accusation is “You weren’t listening to me.” The former is more productive because it is based on your perception and each persons perception is their reality. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree in disagreements.

4. Agree to disagree.

Horrible! By far the hardest and worst, however this is coupled with no accusations. In this situation we hear out the other persons feelings whether we agree or not. We learned “I hear you.” as the most powerful statement you can ever say to someone in an argument. You are inevitably saying, “I hear your feelings, I respect those feelings, I do not agree with your perception.” This is keeping the conversation above reproach which provides security, love and respect to each person. By saying these three words you also diffuse a situation that can grow in heat and anger.

5. Know when to walk away.

Some arguments, fights, disagreements will require one person walking away. By walking away you are not walking away leaving the situation unsettled. We are simply diffusing an escalated situation that can quickly get out of hand if not allowed to diffuse and then circle back with a fresh feeling.

While these are not ALL of our rules of engagement when we get into a heated argument, tift, and or fight, but these are the most important. These simple rules have helped us to remain grounded in our marriage and show our children that you can have a healthy disagreement where each person voices their concerns, feelings, and love is displayed. Not every fight is the same and not every marriage or situation is the same. However, love is the same and to love each other unconditionally where feelings remain unchanged and unmoved in a disagreement. Safety, security to feel with the other that feelings are acknowledged, loved and respected are also at the pinnacle for a successful argument and relationship.

Do you find these rules would be helpful? What rules have you set in your relationship or marriage that help to define how you engage with one another in an argument, disagreement?

6 Replies to “Rules of Engagement”

  1. Great rules. We do the same in our marriage although we didn’t actually make hard and fast rules, but we go by then in any case. I’m going to have to learn to walk away though. It’s not in me (I’m like a bull dog) and I need to work on it.

    1. Jenine, that was THE hardest rule for me as well. I too am like a bulldog and want resolution. So to walk away and get cool headed when we would start to get nasty was the hardest action because I thought walking away was giving up. Walking away just meant re-evaluating and finding resolution instead of inflicting more hurt.

  2. Walking away is always the hardest. We will have been married 25 years this summer and they haven’t all been easy. Some have been better than others but I have learned that in each of those years we have grown in some way.

    Sometimes we lose our way but some where I once read that key is that both people in a marriage don’t fall out of love at the same time. I really really don’t like my husband sometimes but I always love him. I always have to think if I want to be right or stay married and in my anger I sometimes make the wrong choice.

    I hate fighting but I’ll hold a grudge and I need to work on that.

    As for kids fighting, mine have never fought like my siblings and I did but I always encouraged them to make up or I would find creative ways to make them wish they had. The most memorable is making them hold hands while the scrubbed the floor. They have never forgotten that and laugh about it now but to complete the task they had to team up.

  3. These are gret rules to use. It’s not easy especially when we’re younger because we’re still adjusting to a new life . My husband and had some real verbal brawls in the very begining. Both stubborn and both wanting to chew the problem till there wasn’t any fight left. We ended up with more stress and hurts. Eventually we knew it had to change and we used mny of your suggestions. Thanks for your posdt.
    Carol L

  4. I read your other article today, and I went back and read this. You wrote this at a time where I didn’t think my marriage was going to make it. It’s sad, because that was a month ago. However, here we are. Removing divorce was the hardest for us. I hate how much I have threatened and had this threatened to me over the last year before I told Justin flat out, it is not an option anymore, and especially not during fights. I’m so guilty of telling him, “if you don’t like it, divorce me!” And I’m so jaded by the times he said to me, “if you can’t get over the past, divorce me.” Our mistakes rang clear a month ago. Mistakes that led to the threat of divorce becoming reality. We spent a year doing everything on this list, but that’s the one we used most on each other. I feel like removing that from our vocabulary has made every fight pivot constructively…I’m thankful for that. And you and Chad for helping us see some things differently!

    1. I tell you, taking divorce off the table and name calling was the hardest thing we had ever done. Also the best thing because we were able to get to the root of our issues, what was really bothering us. We still fight and argue but they are less intense, less frequent and WAY more productive.

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