Fight Fair

Conflict may be inevitable, but conflict resolution isn't impossible. A few things to keep in mind the next time a quiet evening together morphs into a brawl:

— Don't try to play offense and defense at the same time. When the other person is speaking, listen. When it's your turn to talk, make clear, relevant points without resorting to self-righteousness, guilt-tripping or simplistic arguments. Don't go on too long, and stay on topic.

— Avoid language that will make the situation worse. Hyperbole — such as "You always do this" or "You never do that" — swearing and character attacks will only escalate the argument.

— Personalize your requests and criticize actions, not the person. When it's time to make a complaint, try using an "X, Y, Z statement": "When you did or didn't do X, I felt Y because of Z."

— If the tension keeps climbing and the discussion hits a wall, don't be afraid to call a timeout and come back to the discussion after cooling off.

— Empathize with the other person's position, even if you don't agree with it: "Although it doesn't usually bother me when people keep me waiting, you have a right to be upset that I was late."

— Be on the lookout for deeper issues that may underlie heated arguments about seemingly trivial matters. Chances are the fight over dirty dishes wasn't just about the dishes.

— Work toward genuine forgiveness and recognize that it takes more time to build trust than to damage it.

This sidebar is based on lectures by Marriage 101 professors Arthur Nielsen, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine and a faculty member at Northwestern's Family Institute, and Alexandra Hambright Solomon (GSESP98, 02), a clinical lecturer and a licensed clinical psychologist at the Family Institute. — R.H. and L.W.