DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for three years. We moved in together eight months ago and have been talking about marriage as soon as we're financially stable.
Abby, we both have hot tempers. We don't get violent, but we flare up at the drop of a hat. We tend to take things personally and become defensive. When we fight, it's all-out war. Neither of us seems to be able to stop until it's too late, and by then, we have usually said hurtful things for which we're sorry.
How do people learn to fight fair and control their tempers? We love each other very much. -- HURT IN NEW JERSEY
DEAR HURT: Learning to "fight fair" is an acquired skill, and like any other skill it takes self-control and practice. When people disagree, it is helpful to stay on the subject when talking it out. That means refraining from dragging in baggage from previous arguments.
Another technique that can avert misunderstanding is to "mirror" what the other person has said. ("I heard you say you didn't like my outfit. Did you mean I'm getting fat?") In other words, the person might not have liked the color or style, but how will you know if you don't ask?
Another helpful technique is to ask yourself, before venting, "Is it true? Is it kind? It is hurtful? Is it helpful?" A trial lawyer once told me, "You can't unring the bell." This holds true in relationships as well as courtrooms.
I have published a booklet, "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It," that readers have told me is helpful. It may be ordered by sending a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)