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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

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Declining an Invitation to a Fight

Declining an Invitation to a Fight

You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

Think about it. People invite you to a fight every day.

Some do it brazenly: “That’s the dumbest thing anyone has ever said.”

Some do it subtly: “What makes you think you’re doing it right?”

The end result is the same: a fight. Whether someone stands nose to nose with you and dares you to talk back, or subtly insults you or perhaps very passively puts you down, the result is the same — a fight.

Smart people know they don’t have to accept every invitation to a fight that they’re invited to. In fact, smart people don’t accept any invitations to a fight, because they know that the end result is a fight, and feelings will be hurt, relationships damaged, and self-esteem compromised. There are no safe fights.

“My wife and I fight all the time,” a man attending a Marriage Intensive said to me recently. Jeb was a self-made businessman, brilliant with numbers, talented as a salesman and keen in knowing what the market was doing. Yet, he seemed to have no sense when it came to his wife, Kallie.

“I don’t know how she gets to me,” Jeb continued. “Something about the way she talks to me makes me react. I go from zero to a hundred in five seconds.”

“People don’t react to nothing,” I said to Jeb. “Think about what is happening, and let’s work backwards to understand what it is you’re reacting to.”

Jeb looked away, paused and then blurted out, “She criticizes me. I can be doing to the slightest thing she doesn’t like, and I bite.”

“Yes,” I said. “You bite. That means if you can notice what she does, the fight she invites you to, you can decline the invitation. You’re in control of biting back.”

Jeb smiled.

“Easier said than done,” he said. “When she pokes at me, I’ve got to poke back.”

“How’s that working for you?” I asked, smiling.

“Not too well,” he said. “Still, I don’t know if I can turn down the invitation.”

“You can notice her criticizing you, affirm what she is upset about, promise to fix things, and let it go at that. It is imperative that you learn to take the high road.”

We continued to talk about Jeb’s relationship to his wife and ways to not get hooked by her criticism. He hadn’t been aware or take full responsibility for how reactive he had been. He wanted to blame the entire problem on his wife, when in fact he had choices. He seemed to appreciate that he had the power to get hooked or not. He had choice about whether he was going to get into a fight. Let’s look carefully at his choices.

First, we all can become more aware of what is happening that starts a fight. We can become aware of the little things, or big things, that feel provocative. We can notice our reaction and slow things down, leaving us room to consider our choices.

Second, we can acknowledge when someone is being provocative. We can notice their provocation and choose how we will respond. We don’t have to be reactive, but rather proactive. We can choose how we will respond, and this ability to choose is powerful.

Third, we can consider what is happening with them that causes them to be provocative. Many times someone is picking a fight because they feel wounded in some way. We can take time to consider their response and whether we’ve done anything to hurt them. If so, we can take responsibility for our actions and make remedies to them.

Finally, determine to manage your emotions effectively. As Scripture states, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). We are not to be fighting with each other, even if others are intent upon fighting with us.

So, be on your guard. Watch out for those who want to argue, bicker or fight and be intent on declining invitations to fights.

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website and’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

Publication date: May 29, 2012