Ask the Loveologist: A Good Fair Fight

Every time I get into an argument with my partner it gets ugly. It has gotten so that I don’t want to bring up anything that might start a disagreement because I don’t want to risk the abuse and old baggage that gets dragged through the mud again. It’s almost like nothing is ever forgotten, just saved up for the next argument. It is making me avoid conversation, and it seems that the more I avoid it, the wider the wall between us. Is this what the end of a relationship looks like?

Learning how to have fair fights is a critical skill for a thriving relationship. Many couples swing between the two extremes you have described here–either hurtful, negative exchanges with no boundaries or silence. Both extremes do great harm and can precipitate the premature ending of a relationship. Intimate relationships are not supposed to be free from conflict–done right, conflicts help move both partners closer to more workable living arrangements and each other. Approaching conflict in this way: as a means of broadening your working relationship and learning the triggers for your partner, is the foundation of learning how to have a fair fight with the person you love.

The issues in arguing often come long before the partnership. Many people never learn how to fight fair in their original families, and they bring all the bad behaviors and injuries from the past with them. Whether you learned to scream the loudest or runaway from the first sign of conflict, agreeing to develop new skills for airing grievances is one of the healthiest choices you can make in staying together. The most important thing to keep in mind is that arguments that leave one or both parties feeling belittled, afraid or disrespected continue to do damage to the relationship long after the argument is over.

A great deal of research supports the idea that maintaining mutual respect during an argument by not allowing name calling or other hurtful mechanisms into the fight goes a long way in moving towards resolution. Both partners need to agree to give up the intent to hurt the other; meanness, sarcasm and belittling turn an adult argument into school yard brawls.

An equally powerful boundary to establish is to keep arguments in the present tense. Digging up old hurts only confuses what is currently happening and worse still, makes the idea of forgiveness impossible. The weight of carrying all the wrongs and misunderstandings forward is too heavy for even the strongest of relationships. Rethink the idea of not going to bed angry.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and our relationship is to give it time and space. Taking a break from the intensity of the interaction, even a few minutes can open you up to seeing or hearing your partner differently. Sometimes a brief respite will allow both partners to let down your defenses long enough to see your own part of the argument. Owning up to where you went wrong in an argument is a remarkably powerful de-fuser and will often be met by the other person’s ability to see their own responsibility. Once you start talking about the issue, don’t derail your progress by adding “but…” to the end of the phrase. Remind yourself that having the upper hand is not worth the cost of putting down the person you love.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive and difficult for many people to get there, physical intimacy can be a great way to feed the part of the relationship that words can’t get near. I have often found that after I share a strong intimate connection with my husband, the issue that we were really needing to resolve surfaces.

Many times the thing we are fighting for and about cuts to the heart of whether we feel loved and appreciated, but comes cloaked in all kinds of crazy getups. When all else fails, a good joke to break the tension–finding laughter together–is a reliable pressure valve that is often underused. Humor can provide distance and perspective too. Getting a glimpse of whether the issue is worth it and comparing it to the value of your relationship is the turning point for many people’s arguments. If you really value your relationship, you want to fight fair and set boundaries around how you disagree because without it, what ends up most injured is the relationship you are trying to grow.


Dorlinda Chong
Dorlinda Chong5 years ago

When my dad got mad he usually stomped out of the house, a tactic I use, too. Gee...wonder where I learned it?

Ashley Mack
Ashley Mack7 years ago

I love my husband like crazy but we have had our share of fights like most others too. We used to have terrible arguments but after 12 years you learn what pushes the other to extremes. I too believe that things should be aired when something seems wrong but things should also be pondered over first to make sure it is even worth the argument first. Some things are just pity and can be easily read wrong but the other. I have learned like most of you have said most arguments are miscommunication or life just takes over and you forget to be sensitive to your partner and their needs. Now our arguments very rarely end in yelling and most of the time last about 5 mins and then we walk away for a few mins and then it is over. Say I am sorry and go on like nothing ever happened. Fuss or not though the best thing I have ever learned is dont go to bed mad. You never sleep well, worry half the night, and then feel all down in the morning. Go to bed, say your sorry's and just enjoy your partner. Because life is too short to waste it being upset with the ones you love.

Mark S.
Mark S7 years ago

When my wife and I fight, it's always because of one of three core reasons: 1) miscommunication, 2) one of us has been insensitive to the other's feelings, or 3) one or both of us are triggerered because of past wounds (from our current and previous relatioships; especially those with are parents). Now that we're aware of this, we're able to resolve issues much more quickly and peacefully by identifying what the true cause of the argument is and then working to resolve it instead of dwelling on whatever the petty issue was that sparked the argument.

Jane R.
Jane R7 years ago

My deceased husband & I had horrendous arguments. Always yelled. He always brought up something from the past. No matter how I tried I could never get a word in. Even if I yelled loudly he never heard a word I said. We would sleep in separate rooms afterwards. Most of the time nothing was said about it the next day, but nothing was ever resolved. We managed to stay together, but it wasn't a happy relationship. If I ever get with someone again it will have to be different or I won't hang around.

Milla T.
Milla T7 years ago

and we shouldn't be too scared of conflicts and fights either. because of my past, big fights terrify me. I can't help it. and I'm always scared that this will be the end. and sometimes I think I end up being way too patient and kind. but it's not easy.

Milla T.
Milla T7 years ago

great article. it's so awful how so many people tend to say so many hurtful things to each other. why can't we be more understanding? then again it's hard to draw the line between being understanding and being too understanding.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Never bring sex into an argument. Ever. If there is an issue, tell each other what/how you want it done in a loving matter. Most likely, you want to please each other. Take it as constructive criticism rather than an insult. This way, when the other arguments do come, you have something to make up over and look forward to. Than you talk about what's up, and don't argue after a good session.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran7 years ago

thanks for the article!

Vicky L.
Vicky L7 years ago

Good advice. However, it's important to be honest and not to skim over a problem or assume it's resolved too soon, e.g. by deciding not going to bed angry, that's all we should do - drop the anger. It doesn't mean to make a superficial peace while the problem gets buried. Sometimes it's better to agree to disagree on certain issues, with all the respect and affection maintained in the relationship. And instead of wondering what the relationship is giving me and whether it's worth preserving, focus on making it best possible with what we've got, rather than what's missing.

Loo Samantha
Loo sam7 years ago

thanks for sharing.