10 Tips for Fighting Fair With Your Partner

Conflict is an inevitable part of any coupling, whether you’ve been married for 10 years or dating for six months. But how you handle the difficult moments can define many other aspects your relationship — from the way you parent your children to the way you communicate at the dinner table. Learning how to fight fair and how to use those conflict-resolution skills can have a serious impact on the long-term success of your partnership. So, here are some tips for keeping your relationship on an even keel, even when you’re about to blow your lid.

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1. No name-calling. The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” does NOT apply in marriage. Calling your partner names is not just mean-spirited, it’s caustic, so avoid it at all costs. Similarly, avoiding hurtful or button-pushing remarks is the key to having a healthy and effective fight with your spouse. Skip the low blows and keep the argument respectful, open, and honest.

2. Avoid “you always” and “you never” statements. Speaking in absolutes is one way to guarantee you won’t be heard. Instead of saying, “You never help me with anything,” be specific and explain what happened that made you upset: “I was frustrated when you didn’t help me shovel the driveway.” The more specific you are, the more likely you are to see results.

3. Recognize what’s really bothering you. It’s difficult to be in control of your emotions at all times, especially if something has upset you and you’ve yet to address it with your spouse. But instead of picking a fight over those breakfast dishes in the sink, slow down and recognize why you’re really upset. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re getting enough support with the kids or your partner doesn’t understand the pressure you’re facing at work. Whatever the underlying cause of your frustration, do your best to recognize it before getting into a heated argument.

4. Don’t set out to “win.” Having a fair and respectful argument can actually bring you closer together — so long as you both set out to resolve the conflict and don’t just try to “win” the fight. Don’t let yourself go to a dark place during an argument; remember that a resolution will actually make your relationship better. To do this, both you and your partner should have an equal opportunity to speak and be heard. Take the time to actually listen; don’t plan out your rebuttal while your spouse is sharing his/her feelings.

5. Negotiate, compromise, move forward. Everyone knows that relationships require compromise, and that’s doubly true when you’re in the middle of a fight. Once you’ve said your piece and listened to what your partner has to say, get ready to discuss the details of how you plan to move forward. Be ready to make demands but also be willing to give in when necessary. Understand you may need to make some changes — with your behavior, your schedule or even the division of responsibility in the relationship.

6. Consider taking a time out. Sometimes an argument gets so heated that you know you won’t be able to resolve anything until you both have calmed down. And sometimes you can’t even remember why you started fighting in the first place. Forget the old adage “don’t go to bed angry” in these circumstances, and instead, put your fight on hold. Pick a word that will pause the argument until you’re both in a better place to be able to effectively discuss the problem at hand.

7. Make sure you understand your partner’s grievances. For a fight to be fair, it’s critical for both partners to understand why the other person is upset. To ensure you’re getting the message, listen carefully to everything your partner is saying and repeat it back in your own words. This may sound tedious, but being able to understand that your partner is upset about how you reacted during a specific conversation — and not how you behave in general — can stop a minor spat from escalating into a screaming match. Plus, you’ll start to notice the bad behavior that starts these major arguments more easily.

8. Use touch and humor to cool down a heated argument. This might not be possible if you’re furious with each other, but before the argument gets to the point of no return, try taking a deep breath and gently touch your partner’s arm or hand. Using a gentle gesture or sharing a funny anecdote at that moment will break the tension (instead of adding fuel to the fire).

9. Respect your partner’s emotional reactions. Crying is a completely normal response to dealing with conflict, so show your partner the respect he/she deserves and allow the tears to flow without pointing them out as a weakness. You never want to ridicule your partner for feeling emotions or shut him/her down for opening up. That will only lead to deeper rooted issues and more painful problems in the future.

10. Don’t multitask during an argument. A fight with your spouse is not the time to multitask. Show each other some respect by sitting down together (preferably at the same level) and looking each other in the eye. Focusing on your spouse in this way will help you remember that you love this person and want to go back to those happier moments. That said, taking a walk together can also really help you diffuse that negative energy that might otherwise be misdirected towards your partner.


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