Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Fight fair

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the April 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Could you hear the collective sigh of relief when spring break ended? Mothers everywhere gave thanks that school would once again, at least temporarily, suspend sibling bickering. I remember my own mother saying for the umpteenth time, “Why can’t you kids just get along?” I’m sure Adam and Eve said the same thing to Cain and Abel.

It is natural for siblings to have disagreements, just as conflict is unavoidable in marriage. People would not be human if they lived together in close quarters for years and never had differences. I don’t recall the source of the quip, “If two people are always of the same opinion, than one of them is unnecessary,” but if it’s true, everyone in our household has proven their worth.

The challenge for Christian families is to live with these differences in a way that nourishes the soul. We must find ways to resolve conflicts in our marriage that bring us closer, rather than allow resentments to linger and build. We need to help our children learn skills to settle disputes without hurting one another. Their feelings are as tender and easily bruised as their bodies, and many of us know from experience that the pains of fighting between brothers and sisters can leave scars well into adulthood.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I learned some ground rules for fighting fair. We found that sticking to these principles helped us to resolve disagreements before they developed into painful arguments. If we became angry and defensive, falling back on these strategies helped diffuse the high emotions. A side benefit has been that our children have also learned through the years to fight fair.

Ground Rules for Fighting Fair

• No hitting or any other physical violence.
• No criticism, name calling or sarcasm. Despite old truisms, words can and do wound people. When we use these tactics we destroy the fabric of trust in our families.
• No bringing up past issues. To resolve an issue it is important to stick to the point. Bringing up past misdeeds only exacerbates the current quarrel. Try not to stockpile resentment, but to deal with grievances as they arise.
• No generalizing. Words like “always” and “never” are usually inaccurate and only serve to heighten tension.
• No interrupting. It is not just that it’s rude. We may think when we interrupt that we have the information that will end the dispute, but in actuality interrupting usually inflames the discussion.
• No hitting below the belt. Attacking spots you know to be vulnerable betrays trust and the damage to the relationship is difficult to repair.
• Listen. Seek understanding, rather than to convince the other that you are right.
• Speak directly and honestly about your needs and feelings using “I” statements to describe them. “You” statements sound accusatory and blaming. They usually put people on the defensive ending constructive conversation. “Why” questions also cause defensiveness. Try to ask questions that clarify, rather than being judgmental.
• Call a time out if emotions are running high. We may believe we are thinking clearly when we’re angry, but often we are not.

We all want peaceful homes and loving families. None of us set out to have bickering kids and resentful spouses. But it takes more than good intentions to resolve the many conflicts that come up in living together day to day. It requires skills and the commitment to use them. Also important is the willingness to forgive others and ourselves when we fail, as we most surely will. Perhaps the real secret to fighting fair is the willingness to pick up our bruised selves and try again. Try again to trust, though we may get hurt, to love though we may be disappointed, and to forgive knowing we will have to forgive again.

If you find yourself or other family members unable to abide by these rules despite your best efforts, consider seeking the help of a family therapist or enrolling in an anger management class. God sometimes stands waiting to help us in the guise of a trained professional.

© 2005, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her new children's novel, Fire in the Hole!, is available from Clarion Books.)

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