(1) Discuss only one thing at a time. No dragging in other issues, events or people – that’s certain to escalate the discussion into an argument.
(2) No hitting below the belt. Declare certain topics, historical events or comments “off limits” because they’re sure to cause pain or start a fight. Then LEAVE THEM ALONE. Agree to discuss those issues, if necessary, only for a specific purpose and under safe conditions, such as in the presence of a third party.
(3) Only one person at a time gets to talk. The other gets to listen – not debate, defend their position, or counter-attack. Then take turns. MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND YOUR PARTNER’S VIEWPOINT before you talk about your own.
(4) Take a time-out, with a guaranteed time-in. When you feel things escalating, take an immediate time-out and try again in a half hour. If you can’t do that, you must commit to talking about the issue later, at a specified time. The purpose of the time-out is to stop the escalation, not the discussion! If you call a time-out, you MUST call a time-in. If your partner calls a time-out, leave him/her alone – don’t follow your partner around trying to continue the discussion.
(5) No character assassination. Talk about specific behaviors, not your partner’s personality. “I’d like you to pick up your clothes” is appropriate; “You’re a slob” is character assassination.
(6) No “mind reading.” Don’t jump to conclusions about what you THINK is meant by what is being said or done. Stick to what is actually said or done. The responsibility for revealing meanings and motivations belongs only to the person who has them.
(7) Don’t try to re-create history. Too many people argue over historical details – exact words, who did what first, in what time frame, etc. – instead of identifying actual problems and solutions. Stick to real issues you can do something about NOW, and stop fighting about whose memory is more accurate.
(8) Take responsibility for your own feelings, desires, needs and behaviors. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements, as in “I want you to…” instead of “You should…” “I’m angry that you were late” is talking about your feelings; “You’re always late” is blaming.
(9) Look for resolution, not agreement. Partners don’t have to agree on things, arrive at the same conclusions, or see things the same way; this is not only impossible, it’s boring! Individuals are allowed to have their own opinions, interpretations, feelings and thoughts about things. Trying to win a “Tastes great! Less filling!” argument is fruitless and unfair.
(10) KEEP THE RULES EVEN IF YOUR PARTNER DOESN'T. Your partner fighting dirty doesn’t give you permission to do the same! Fighting dirty is a character issue – don’t compromise yours.