Rules of Engagement - Boundaries for a Fair Fight


Sixteen years ago when we met with our mentor and pastor (PJ) for our pre-marriage counselling he had us create rules of engagement for arguments or disagreements. We have essentially stuck to the same boundaries for arguments for the last 16 years because they have worked.

Before I get into listing the boundaries we have made for ourselves when it comes to how we "fight" lets talk about the why.

You treat people how to treat you. What you allow you condone.

With that in mind it is important that you lay down expectations for how you want to be treated during a disagreement. By doing this as a couple you are being intentional to create the type of culture you want in your relationship. When we decide not to be intentional we're allowing circumstances and emotions to take the lead and that ultimately typically ends in unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

Ideally we would all know exactly how to treat one another and always understand how our actions, verbiage and tone would affect others. Unfortunately that is not real life. By creating boundaries for a fair fight that you both agree to you can develop healthy patterns and ensure that your disagreements have a foundation of honour and respect. You can actually go into a disagreement without anxiety because you know that you are both committed to keeping the argument clean and productive.

At the basis of our rules engagement there needs to be the mindset that the goal of confrontation is that it end in understanding. Confrontation is not for one person to be right and the other to be wrong. Confrontation is not to shame or punish someone. It's also important to both commit to working something through. It brings much peace and stability to a relationship when you know that you are going to find a resolution and you're both committed to your partner having a voice and getting on the same page.

All that said - here are our Rules of Engagement

1. No swearing, cussing, or name calling. It brings unneeded aggression and negativity into the argument. Name calling is disrespectful and honestly should be weeded out of your life in general. It's never productive. Now, one should also avoid trying to get around the rules by using "I statements" like "I feel like you're acting like a $#@." I'm not proud of the fact that I've tried that one! lol.

2. Keep the volume respectful. There's no need to raise your voice or yell.

3. Refrain from using the words "Always" or "Never". Those terms paint someone with a brush and totally discount all the times they do not act in the way you are describing them. Realistically nobody ever always does something or never does something. It will make them feel defensive because you are categorizing them unfairly. It looks like saying things like "You always leave your towel on the floor." or "You never help me cook."

4. Be responsible - don't justify your behaviour. You and only you are responsible for every choice, word, behaviour, action or mindset you have. No one put a gun to your head and made you say something or act in a certain way. In an argument refuse to allow yourself to deflect by justifying your actions. That looks like saying things like "Well I only lost my temper because you would not stop talking about it." WRONG. Sorry - I don't want to be harsh but you are an adult, you control yourself. The biggest component of adulting is being fully responsible for your behaviour and choices. When you are fully responsible you are very powerful!

5. Stay on Task - nothing derails an argument quicker than getting off task. If an issue has been brought up, stay on that issue. Don't start bringing up the past and other issues. Don't use your partners issues as ammunition or justification for your own. This is the #1 reason arguments start to go in circles and take 3 hours to get to the end of.

For example, I may say to my husband "Hey, I'm not loving how much of your mail is accumulating in the living room. I'm not sure what you need and what you don't. Can you please go through it and file what you need to keep and clean it up?"

He may respond with "Well I'm not sure you're one to talk. Your clothes have been on the floor in the bedroom for 3 days."

With that type of response we're getting no where because we could "fire" at each other allllll day long. Commit to staying on task and keep each other accountable. I would then respond with "I understand clothes on the floor could be frustrating but could we please stick to the issue at hand and then we can find another time to talk about the clothes on the floor."

Once the initial issue is dealt with we can either move onto the next issue or save it for another day. If you're working through something tough and it's emotionally draining it might be best to leave it for another day.

6. Make peace before you sleep - You may not be able to fully come to a resolution on an argument before you go to bed (and it can be unhealthy to argue until all hours of the night) but try to at least come to a place of peace. Choose to let go of your anger and communicate your willingness to understand each other and work this out. Unresolved anger leads to bitterness and resentment.

7. No Audience - sometimes it's helpful to allow your kids to see you work through confrontation in a healthy way. That is fine. But for sensitive matters where a lot of feelings are involved leave that for a private time with no audience. This goes for arguing in front of others as well. It's not appropriate to argue in front of your family or friends. It puts them in an awkward spot and often invites others into the confrontation which is not helpful at all.

So those are our Rules of Engagement. Other people may have ones that look very different from ours but the important thing is to make the time to sit down with your partner and actually be intentional to set the boundaries in place.

If someone crosses a boundary then we help each other by lovingly pointing it out and then sticking to the expectation. If a person refuses to play by the rules so to speak then we have the right to not engage the conversation any longer until the person is willing to fight fair. This may mean physically leaving the confrontation. No one should ever have to stay in a conversation that is disrespectful. People often learn quickly that if they want to be heard and have a voice in the conversation that they will have to treat people well in order to have that privilege.

Do you have Rules of Engagement in your relationship? If so, we'd love to hear yours!

You can watch our message where we shared these guidelines as well as a ton of practical tips for creating healthy boundaries in relationships here!

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