You’ve probably all heard the saying “All is fair in love and war,” but most of us probably haven’t thought about looking at the rules that govern one and applying them to the other.
To be fair, the “rules of war” I want to discuss may not be the ones that you would typically imagine. Perhaps a better way to think about them is as the “rules of peace.” After all, if you’re trying to “beat” your significant other, both of you are ultimately going to lose.
That being said, I was surprised by how many useful relationship lessons we can take from war and conflict.
Create rules – then follow them. When developed nations engage in war, they follow a very specific set of rules and protocols. But how does everyone know what these rules are? Because what is and isn’t allowed is very clearly spelled out in writing, and when groups or nations violate these rules, they usually get called out for their bad behavior.
You can tone down a lot of conflict between you and your partner by doing something similar. Sit down together, talk about how you each want to be treated, and agree to stick to these rules – even when you’re fighting.
Use a mediator. Nations on the cusp of a conflict or trying to come to peace terms often invite a third party to mediate in order to keep the mood and rhetoric civil.
If you’re afraid of breaking the rules you just created or letting your emotions get out of hand, it can be useful to bring in an outside party you respect. Why? Because doing this will likely make both of you act more respectfully toward each other. Another way this idea can help is by simply imagining that someone you respect is there, like your parents, boss, or even the president.
Consider peace offers. Why do countries sign peace treaties and entertain offers of peace? Because if they didn’t, the only thing that would end a conflict is total annihilation. If you think about this in terms of your relationship, that means the dissolution of your marriage.
Now, chances are good that most fights will never get that far, but it’s still a smart idea to take “peace offers” from your spouse (an apology, a joke, a simple refusal to engage if you’re yelling) as what they are – a way to calm things down and stop hurting each other. Accepting this proverbial olive branch doesn’t mean that the conflict is over or the issue is resolved, but it can keep things from getting worse as long as both of you continue to work to repair things.
Two other “rules” that are important to keep in mind are to understand that conflict is part of the process – both in personal relationships and international politics – and to avoid “going nuclear.” It can be tempting at times to try to “win” an argument by essentially blowing things up (saying things you know are hurtful or hurling ultimatums), but in the long run, that doesn’t help anybody.
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