I hate the phrase “all is fair in love and war,” as well as the stupid notion that you should not get mad, just get even. Studying International Relations as an undergraduate at Georgetown, I learned early on that there are actually strict rules of engagement, even in wartime, and the goal should always be to try and maintain peace among our nations. Whether all governments choose to follow these rules is a whole other story, but guess what? Same thing applies in love– there are actually rules of engagement, and there are very clear guidelines on how we should argue and address conflict, and if you cannot maintain peace at home, everything will go to hell in a hand basket.
Many psychologists have written extensively about how couples should communicate while navigating life’s challenges together. Some of my favorite authors are Dr. Hendrix (Keeping the Love You Find), Dr. Gottman (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and Dr. Cloud (Boundaries in Marriage). Sadly, many wait too long to get help with addressing conflict, by which point too much damage has been done, and that is when I get involved– hopefully to coordinate a peaceful parting of ways vs. going to war in court.
Given the choice of litigating or mediating an amicable settlement, it may surprise many to hear that over 90% of family disputes are actually settled out of court before a trial. When acting as a mediator or in my Collaborative Divorce cases, I actually get to see the dynamics of a couple unfold in our sessions, and it is so sad to see how these two individuals once so connected are now a million miles apart. If I could turn back the clock for them, I’d recommend that upfront, when they first merge households they work on a list of house rules with a goal towards keeping the peace and minimizing arguments.
I realize we are all wired differently, and we all have different triggers and tolerance levels for conflict, but here are some suggested guidelines I think most of us can agree on:
1. No threats of leaving/ending things;
2. No saying “you are wrong” to each other, which tends to make someone feel dismissed/not understood;
3. Avoid name-calling, yelling, foul language;
4. Be honest with each other;
5. Check in regularly to make sure you are both on the same page re division of labor;
6. No major household purchases without consultation;
7. Try to do no harm;
8. Don’t take each other for granted;
9. Always love and respect the other.
Love is a garden that will always need tending– always. The goal should always be to make each other’s lives as peaceful and easy as possible. While inevitably conflict is a normal part of life, it would be a mistake to think all is fair in love and war. If you are at war with a loved one, see if you can work out a peace treaty versus just throwing in the towel. A good life partners is really hard to find– and very hard to replace, trust me on that one.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.