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Fighting Fairly In Relationships: 18 Ways To Make It Happen

These rules of engagement will teach you how to argue productively, leading to a closer relationship
18 ways to fight fairly

Conflict is a healthy, normal, and probably inevitable part of most relationships.  When conflict is approached in a healthy way, it can strengthen relationships rather than harm them. It can foster a better understanding of your partner and add depth to the relationship.  Rules for fair fighting give the parties the tools and techniques necessary to help generate positive results when conflicts arise.

  1. Remain calm and respectful.  Try not to overreact to difficult situations and you will find others will be more likely to consider your point of view.
  2. Express feelings in words, not actions.  Speak directly and honestly about how you feel, using 'I feel' statements.  Instead of attacking someone and telling them what he or she is doing wrong tell them how it makes you feel. “I feel sad when you come home late.”  Instead of “You are such a jerk for coming home late.”
  3. If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, take a 'time out'.  Be sure and let the other party know you are taking a break.  Later, when you are both calm come back and discuss the situation.  
  4. Be specific about what is bothering you.  The more specific the better; vagueness is restraining for people.
  5. Use active listening and empathy.  Do not interrupt the other person, and be willing to repeat back to them what you heard them say.  Try to take time to put yourself in their shoes.
  6. Each person should limit their turn to speak to no more than 3 minutes.  Remember that everyone has limits to their attention span. After three minutes the listener will tune out what you are saying.
  7. Only discuss one issue at a time.  Fully discuss one issue until it is resolved, before your move onto other issues, preferably at a later time. Do not bring up old topics from the past.  Only discuss the issue at hand. This minimizes the conflict. Bringing up old issues fuels the fire and makes the conflict worse.
  8. Be real.  Just stay with the facts and your honest feelings because exaggerating or inventing a complaint of feelings will prevent the real issues from being resolved.
  9. Accept an apology.  If one person apologizes for their behavior, be willing to accept it as genuine.
  10. Avoid attacking or hitting below the belt.  Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
  11. Avoid blaming.  Talk about how someone's actions made you feel rather than talking about what they did to you.  If you are using the word 'you' more than the word 'I', you are probably engaging in blaming.
  12. Avoid generalizing.  Don't use words like 'never' or 'always' since these words are used inaccurately and cause frustration.
  13. No name-calling or labeling.  For obvious reasons.
  14. Avoid gunny sacking.  Don't store up minor grievances and dump them all at once.  Deal with issues as they arise.
  15. Avoid playing archaeologist.  Don't dig up issues from the remote past.
  16. Avoid 'dropping the bomb'.  Don't overreact to a situation and make idle threats or give ultimatums unless you are going to follow through.
  17. Avoid character analysis or psycho-analyzing.  Don't tell the other person what they are thinking, feeling, or interpret why they acted as they did. This is mind reading.  No one can mind read.
  18. Avoid 'round robin' fights.  Don't continue with repetitive, stale arguments where no progress is being made toward conflict resolution.

Learning and adapting these rules of fair fighting in your life will promote healthier relationships in the home, socially, and in the workplace!

Need additional help working through relationship stress? Start working with an online therapist, talk to an active listener or join the conversation in our community.


Posted: 02 February 2017
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Melissa Muller, LMHC

Melissa is a licensed mental health counselor and supervisor in the state of Florida.

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