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A refresher course on fighting fairly…

SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – We all know the rules, don’t we?  We learned them in grade school; “Treat others as you would like to be treated”, “Don’t say something you’ll wish you could take back” and “Keep your hands to yourself”… pretty basic and reasonable, right?  So why do these basic tenets of ‘playground politics’ get lost or forgotten once we become adults?  I mean beyond war, political battles and pay-per-view Tyson fights… why do we still manage to hurt those we love; our parents, our children, our spouses or our friends?  What makes this OK and when does it become ‘Abusive’?

Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, is a pattern of behaviors by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation.  Domestic violence spans many areas including physical aggression; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or intimidation; stalking and neglect.  Abuse between partners seems to be the most spoken about.

“Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime.”1

Further Statistics:

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew.

Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police

Sexual assault or forced sex occurs in approximately 40-45% of battering relationships.

1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men have been stalked in their lifetime.

81% of women stalked by a current or former intimate partner are also physically assaulted by that partner; 31% are also sexually assaulted by that partner.

Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.

Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.

Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.

In 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.

Less than one-fifth of victims reporting an injury from intimate partner violence sought medical treatment following the injury.

Intimate partner violence results in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year.2

1 & 2 *Statistics courtesy of the NCADV Public Policy Office · 1633 Q St NW # 210 · Washington, DC 20009 · (202) 745-1211 · Fax: (202) 745-0088 publicpolicy@ncadv.org

Scary statistics, right?  I see people enduring this kind of suffering everyday and I have to admit, they are amongst the most heart breaking cases I deal with.  There are several and varying circumstances of abuse… and survival.  Too many victims of abuse don’t make it out of their situation alive, or unaffected if they do.  Some victims identify with or defend their abusers and make excuses for them.  Many are so beaten down and ‘broken’, that they actually believe they deserve the abuse and believe it to be done “out of love”.  Others endure out of fear of the consequences of leaving.  It is a tragic, tragic phenomenon.

So, today, I offer a review of the basic rules and regulations to fighting fairly.  Family is too important to lose over bad choices or inappropriate methods of conflict resolution.  Let’s face it, we all have our moments, we all fight… we are predisposed to disagree and challenge our loved ones.  Setting basic boundaries and rules for disagreements can be the difference between a healthy and respectful disagreement and an abusive nightmare.  In my experience, once a line has been crossed it is hard not to cross again.  Additionally, when we fight disrespectfully, the scars are deeper, remain longer and have an erosive, irreparable effect on the relationship.  Considering the permanency of wounds related to abusive relationships, brushing up on our ‘fair fighting’ skills seems to be a beneficial and intimacy boosting exercise for couples.

You shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that any of the skills for ‘fighting fairly’ originate from our grade school lessons.  Yes, folks, it’s that simple… and in more ‘adult’ terms:

1. Embrace conflict.  There is no need to avoid or fear it.  Conflict is healthy and normal.  Often we can learn from conflict where we need to learn or grow.

2. Go after the issue, not one another.  It is enough to deal with the problem without attacking one another.  Do not resort to name calling or character assassination.

3. Listen with Respect.  Hear your partner out. Do not interrupt or devalue their opinions. Acknowledge and respect their feelings, whether you agree with them or not.

4. Talk Softly.  The louder you yell, the less you are being heard.   React to the issue, not the noise.

5. Don’t get defensive, get curious.  Try to understand your partner’s issue, before defending yourself.  Many arguments are the result of a misunderstanding.

6. Look for things you agree upon.  Try to see where you agree on the issue and consider different options.  This is a show of respect and that you are willing to compromise.

7. Ask for specifics.  Phrases like “always” and “never” are rarely accurate and often cause defensiveness.  Ask for specific instances and try to be understanding of what they are upset about.

8. Consider compromises.  Look for concessions that can help improve the situation.  Show you are willing to try something different.

9. Make Concessions.  When you are flexible, your partner feels safe to do so as well.  It is all about your needs being respected by one another.  It is about finding a solution that works for you both.

10. Make Peace.  Pick your battles.  Do not go to bed angry.  Decide how much winning your dispute is worth, and how nice resolving it would be.  When you both agree to fair fighting, making up is easy.

All in all, my advice is to love one another, respect one another and most of all, remember the basics; treat one another as you would like to be treated, don’t say anything you will later regret and keep your hands to yourself!

If you, or anyone you know, are trapped in an abusive relationship… there is help.

For more information or to get help, please call:




By:  Sarah Cole Camerer, M.Ed., LMHC


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