The Best Thing I Did for My Long-Term Relationship

We have fighting rules.

John and I just passed 23 years of marriage. We are one of those couples who have longevity.

What is so amazing about this is that John has been married for 35 years but our marriage has lasted 23 years. I’m his third wife. I waited for God’s best and it turns out I get to be a third wife. (Lots of questions there but not one regret.) John was married twice before me, each of them lasted 6 years. You would think there would be some baggage that came with marrying John.

There was. I was eyes open on it going into this marriage. So was John. As he says, this was his last shot at trying marriage.

Now we are at 23 years and counting. We are amazed at every year we get.

I did many things right to prepare myself for marriage and for this marriage. There was the whole me I knew whom John dated the entire time. There was our commitment to our faith. There was our respect for marriage. There was our commitment to work at our marriage.

There was premarital counseling to let someone else we trusted speak into John’s past, my strong-will, and anything else he saw in our relationship.

There was my confidence in my decision to say yes to John’s proposal after having said no to other proposals. There was confidence in John’s love for me. Looking back in hindsight that could have been shaky. His second wife was a professional model, the Manhattan-type of working model. That’s not me! An insecurity in me could have created a terrible problem in our marriage.

A year into our marriage we did something together that has helped us the most with the baggage that could have torn us apart. We created fighting rules.

In that first year of marriage I noticed something in how John fought with me. He was waiting for me to bring up my long list of things he has done wrong in that one fight. During one fight he even accused me of starting to go down that list. In response I said loudly (because we were fighting), “I’m not bringing up all that past stuff because what is right now is bad enough.”

That changed how John was fighting with me. He was so guarded that I was going to go on and on and on with what he’s done wrong since forever that he couldn’t hear me tell him what is wrong now. We decided right then (I remember the part of the road we were driving on at the time) that we would create fighting rules and fight only within those rules.

Here are our rules we came up with, in no particular order.

  • There is no name-calling.
  • Past incidents are not allowed to be brought up.
  • We stay focused on arguing about this one problem.
  • There is no walking away, shutting down, etc. We will fight til there is a resolve or decide together to give it some space.
  • We will use the words such as “always” and “never” sparingly and wisely, trying to keep to true statements instead of exaggerated statements.

I spend a good amount of time teaching this in pre-marital counseling where I’ve picked up some other rules, such as…

  • No hitting.
  • No throwing items.
  • No arguing past 9 pm. The conflict must wait until both are not overtired.
  • No cuss words. Or cuss words only during a fight.
  • No passive-aggressive behaviors (this one always gets more specific than that).

Can you think of a rule you would like to add? No matter what point of a relationship you are in right now?

What these rules have done for John and I is now when there is a conflict (and there always is!) we are not armored up or on guard or ready to hide from this conflict. We are both free to enter in and discuss and argue and share our feelings knowing that we are both committed to not hurting each other and are committed to finding a resolve. We are committed to get to the resolve no matter how uncomfortable the fight is or how vulnerably exposed we are feeling.

On the occasions a rule has been broken, the fight is then shut down. Now we can no longer fight fairly because someone exaggerated an “always” (the biggest rule breaker for both of us) so we are no longer focused on the conflict. Something was said to create an unfair advantage so now it is not safe for us to fight. It is an automatic end to the fight until the appropriate space has been created to try to communicate again.

When we do get back to the original fight it is most often less spirited and more factual. The space as well as the realization that one of us broke a rule to gain an unfair advantage takes the heat out of the original problem.

Thankfully we don’t try to stay fighting after a rule has been broken. Because then the heat really ratchets up.

This takes self control. This takes respect. This takes trust. All things a love for a lifetime should have.

We are not a conflict-free relationship. We may post pictures of how cutely loving we are but we fight. We have learned to fight well so we are not afraid of that part of a very real relationship.

Worth the work to institute and keep the rules.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash