Renee: Whenever there’s a conflict or a fight, you automatically have rules (whether spoken or unspoken) in which you engage each other. You may not know what they are until you’re actually in the fight, but everyone has them. Most of us have learned these somewhere along with the ways because of our own personality or because of our family history or the ways we have developed our own defensiveness, but we all have rules of engagement. Rules of engagement are an essential thing to discover inside of your marriage. It’s helpful to know what we will do when fighting, disagreeing, or not seeing eye to eye occurs.
Ask yourself: what are the ways we engage each other when we can’t see eye to eye?
Don: The first rule of engagement is that you cannot make engagement rules during a heated engagement. This is called chaos, and it always has the same result. Rules of engagement have to be decided and committed to before the conflict begins (or you’re playing Hunger Games, seeing who comes out alive and who doesn’t).
Renee: it’s a good conversation to have with one another and ask, what are the things that we want to agree to before we are fighting? What are the things that we decide are off bounds?
Don: Let’s just say, this is not the frilly sort of hanging on the wall version of peacemakers or the spiritualized sanitized version of how you’re going to be with each other. These are real in-the-moment-when-you’re-slightly-crazy rules. You need boundaries to make sure you’re connected and protected when neither of you are the best versions of yourselves. And so the rules need to be practical.
So what would be a practical, real rule of engagement?
Renee: a real rule of engagement could be…
Don: Suppose I call a timeout, and you don’t honor my request for a time out?
Renee: So that could be a rule of engagement!
Don: If someone calls a time out, time outs have to be honored. Otherwise, it’s not really a rule of engagement. It’s just a suggestion, right?
Renee: To figure out where to start for your rules of engagement, think through what you did the last time you had a conflict. This can give you a starting place for what you should or should not do in your next engagement.
Don: Write down your conflicts for 30 days. You may start to see patterns of what triggers a conflict. Are they after nine o’clock when you’re tired? Are they in the laundry room because you feel unappreciated? While doing dishes? Whatever those hotspots are, you can see where you tend to get off the rails.
Now you need to figure out how to stay connected and protected while fighting. Write your rules down. They are real. If somebody breaks them, then what?
Renee: If someone breaks a rule, come back to your rules and look at them again. What do you have to figure out? What are you going to do about this particular one that’s not being followed?
Your list should not be a list of 25 rules. Instead, start with a few primary behaviors that you’re want to change while engaging in conflict.