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Fighting fair: Avoid the kitchen sink

December 13, 2011

Fighting fair, fighting fair…it feels like we’ve been talking about this topic for ages. But there are eight guidelines to get through and learning how to manage conflict is one of the most important things you can do for your relationship. So, we press on. We’re on number 5 today: Focus on only one problem at a time.

I’m sure everyone who has ever been in a relationship, or in an argument for that matter, can relate to this one. You get started on one issue and then all of a sudden you find yourselves arguing about five more. How in the world did that happen?! Blame it on the way memories get stored in our brains. Remembering one incident tends to trigger similar incidents. So, when you’re arguing about what happened last night, you’re reminded of what happened this morning, and then what happened last Tuesday, and all of a sudden you’ve gone down a very slippery path.

Conflict can escalate both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally is what I just described–the content begins to include more and more topics. Vertically is when the content expands from specific issues to more broad categories. And while expanding the issue at hand may be helpful {especially if you’re digging deeper and getting at what’s really bothering you}, fighting about numerous issues at once is likely to cause gridlock.

The goal here is to monitor yourself when you’re reminded of related issues, or of something entirely different that also bothered you recently, and stick to the problem at hand. If you need to discuss something else, bring it up after you’ve resolved the first issue. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink! But here’s what’s key: Don’t be afraid to expand the problem to fully explore what’s going on. Narrow the discussion to focus on a specific problem but don’t limit a full exploration of that problem.

Tell me, do you have any funny stories of throwing in the kitchen sink? I’m sure there are a few out there. And come on, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, what’s the point? By the way, laughter is one of the BEST repair mechanisms–we’ll get to that at the end of our eight ground rules. You’re excited, aren’t you? I can feel it. 🙂


5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 6:41 pm

    John’s parents have this great story; they were having a fight early in their marriage, and suddenly Judy says, “What about CHRISTMAS, Charlie?!?!”

    It was September.

    Since then, whenever one of us starts throwing in the kitchen sink, the other will say, “WHAT ABOUT CHRISTMAS” and it always seems to diffuse whatever we’re up to!

    • December 15, 2011 3:25 pm

      LOVE this story, Lena. WHAT ABOUT CHRISTMAS, CHARLIE?! Haha! It makes me laugh just thinking about it. And I love that you and John have adopted it as one of your own repair mechanisms. 🙂

  2. December 14, 2011 11:56 am

    That’s tough. I’m bad at both the horizontal and the vertical, but the vertical is what really gets me. I was on a mock trial team in high school, and so got really good at “arguing well.” This includes backing up my argument, getting other examples of the same situation. It’s the “see? I’m not crazy, this thing you do that bothers me happens all the time!” argument.

    I fortunately haven’t had a chance to work on this lately, because we haven’t fought lately. Next time though, I’m really going to try to stay on topic, and on time-period! (I fall into the “it may have happened three months ago, but it’s still on topic!” trap)

    • December 15, 2011 3:26 pm

      Oh my, I totally get you on this one. I consider myself pretty good at arguing–I sometimes think I’d make a good lawyer. Mainly because I’m so stubborn, it takes me a long time to back down. My point HAS to be made. This doesn’t always pan out when it comes to my marriage, though. Haha!

      • December 16, 2011 1:05 pm

        YES! I think one of the hardest things to learn in marriage is that if I win, I’m not really winning. Also, I happened to have married a man who won’t let me get away with winning, which I know will be good for me in the long run, but it makes arguments kind of like running into a brick wall.

        “I wanna win!” “but you’re not going to, that’s not the point.” “but I wanna win!” (lather, rinse, repeat)

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