Fighting Fair: 10 Tips for Couples

Whether you have been married for 30 years or in a serious relationship for 3 months, conflict is difficult.  Many of us were raised without role models or even a template for “fighting” with our significant other. Many of us grew up with parents who brushed everything under the rug or punished each other with silence.  Some of us experienced the opposite:  yelling, blaming, shaming, all with no resolution.  When it comes to arguing though, it is a good idea to have some rules in place, and to establish and agree upon them before those arguments even occur.  This can help you come to an agreement more quickly and avoid unnecessary hurt feelings and resentments.  Listed below are some good rules to discuss.  If these don’t fit your “coupleship,” find some others that do.

1.  No blaming.  It distracts you from the problem at hand and illicits defensiveness from your mate.  “It’s your fault I come home late because I don’t want to come home to your bad mood.”

2.  Never start your sentences with “You.”    The other person is automatically on the defensive.  You will benefit greatly by starting your sentence with the word, “I.”   i.e., “I feel so angry when you stay out late and don’t call.”  “I feel so scared when you drink and drive.”

3.   No name calling or degrading language.  When you intentionally verbally injure your partner, you are telling them they are not safe with you.  Sports have rules to prevent injury.  So should marriage and relationships.

4. Never use the word always.  No one ever does anything every time and always. These statements are too eternal.  “You always forget our anniversary!”

5. No yelling.  Couples have different definitions of yelling based upon their own family. If your spouse experiences your statements as yelling, then it is indeed yelling.  Perception is everything when it comes to arguing. Be aware of the volume of your voice.

6.   No use of force.  Pushing, shoving, cornering, and certainly hitting or slapping is completely and totally unacceptable and against the law.  Do not let anger take over and spiral into violence.

7.   No talk of divorce or splitting up.  In an argument, talk of divorce or leaving is usually manipulative.   It can quickly erode your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship and truly leave deep scars.

8.  No walking out or leaving.  When necessary, use time-outs.  It can give you much needed perspective.  “I am not leaving, but I need 10 minutes to calm down.” Don’t just get up and disappear.

9.  Stay in the present.  Do not drag events of the past into the present.  Resist the urge to use this occasion to bring up other issues from the past.  We can’t change the past; only the present.

10.  Take turns speaking.  Let one person speak at a time.  When one is speaking, the other should be listening…really listening.  Avoid the urge to be planning your rebuttal.

Also keep in mind, It is never good to argue at the end of the day when both of you are tired.  Similarly, it doesn’t work to argue on an empty stomach.  Definitely, do not argue when one or both of you have been drinking alcohol.

It is hard not to try to win an argument.  Many times we just want to be right and we can spend endless hours and emotions trying to accomplish this.  It does not solve anything and creates more distance in the relationship. When arguing within a relationship, consider this theme: “You don’t win, I don’t win….We win.” It’s not all about winning or being right. Sometimes working so hard to ‘win’ can damage the relationship beyond repair, and then you both lose. If you and your loved one are struggling and seem to argue frequently with no resolutions, you may want to consider your own “fair fighting” rules.  If you feel that you need help with this, contact a therapist who specializes in couples’ counseling.   It truly helps to have a safe, neutral space to solve differences and to have an objectives party assist you in processing the issue.

Blog written by Pam Newton, MA, LCDC. Pam provides individual and group counseling with a focus on addiction and recovery for families. Pam also spearheads educational groups for clients, families and community members focusing on the unique challenges often paired with addiction and recovery.