Really, I was terrible. I was dramatic in the style of a CW teen soap opera. I sobbed. I yelled. I accused. I slammed down the phone only to immediately hit re-dial over and over again, until I was met with an answer. I demanded attention, and the less of it I got, the louder I became. Ultimately, I didn't care what the person on the other side of the fence needed--I just wanted to win. But even when I got my way, I never really felt like I had won anything.
The older I get, the more I have begun to see fighting as less combative, and more as a shared determination to figure out a problem. We settle in, going back and forth, conducting an archaeological dig of every crevice of our conflict, until we both feel resolved. We may be on opposite sides of an issue, but we are aligned in our determination to get to the bottom of it--to fight for the relationship.
It's hard to try not to be defensive; to apologize when you're still angry, to stay open and connected when you would prefer to shut the other person out, fold yourself into a ball, and sulk. But the more I learn to tolerate the discomfort and stay present, the more I have begun to reap the benefits. After a good argument, I feel like I know the other person, and myself, in a deeper way, and I'm left with good, useful intel about how he and I both operate. It leaves me feeling like I know more of him and, therefore, have more of him to love.
Fighting fair means being honest, loving, respectful, and thorough. It means pushing the other person to communicate what he needs, and pushing yourself to hear and receive it. It means holding back the impulse to be unkind at the same time as you tell the real truth. It means remembering you are both good, kind people who are invested in figuring it out.
It is not easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is.