Tips for Fighting Fairly

Posted by: Dr. Justin D'Arienzo, Psy.D., ABPP

Tips for Fighting Fairly

Couples often ask me about tips for fighting fairly. Interestingly, on my Facebook page I asked friends for ideas about my monthly relationship doctor couples segment and many friends suggested I speak about helping couples learn how to fight fairly. I thought this was a great suggestion and will be speaking about this topic on Fox 30 News at 7:45 AM on January 22, 2013.

Based on my clinical experience and couples literature that I have reviewed, I understand that most couples fight. Couples in both healthy and unhealthy relationships and in dysfunctional and functional relationships fight. Some healthy couples fight and fight a lot. What separates the healthy functional couples from the unhealthy dysfunctional couples is that the functional ones are able to make repairs and escape negativity following a fight. Unhealthy dysfunctional couples don’t make repairs and get stuck, never resolve issues, and then throw previously unresolved issues back up in current arguments.

Here are Six Tips to Fight Fairly.

Six Tips to Fight Fairly

  1. Begin with the end in mind: This is one of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits and it is useful in dealing with couples. The goal of the argument or fight is to find resolution and to end the fight with both parties feeling heard and loved.
  2. Manage emotions: Psychologists tell parents not to spank their children when they are angry. For the same reason, this psychologist suggests that couples not argue when they are angry.
  3. Don’t mind read: It is important to have boundaries in an argument. Talk about yourself and how you feel. Don’t make assumptions about how and why the other person feels a certain way. Stay in your lane.
  4. Stick to the topic: Couples often begin an argument, throw in the kitchen sink, and then start fighting about how the other is fighting completely missing the initial subject and point of the discussion. Stay on point.
  5. Pause if necessary but return: Fighting or arguing can lead to a state of fight, flight, or freeze. When this occurs we do not communicate rationally. When we reach this point, we need to take a 20 minute break for our body to recalibrate. When we return to a fight too early, the argument resumes. When we don’t resolve the argument we don’t forget it and the argument repeats.
  6. Make repairs before the argument ends: Again, what differentiates successful relationships from unsuccessful ones is that successful couples make repairs and escape the negativity. It takes two to tango and two to recover.

Couples should seek professional help from a qualified marital or relationship expert if their fighting leads to arguing in front of the children, abuse or domestic violence, uncontrollable anger, and/or threats of divorce.

Fighting and arguing is normal but should not be destructive. In a healthy relationship resolving conflict actually improves a couple’s bond as they learn to navigate negativity while experiencing emotional safety and security.


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