Advise Me

Want Better Relationships? Learn How to Fight Fair with These Tips

There’s this terrible rumor out there. You’ve probably read it somewhere or seen it on TV. It’s that happy couples don’t fight.

The truth is every relationship isn’t without a fight or argument – whether close friends, partners, coworkers or family members. Relationships aren’t always a bed of roses, my friends. In fact, they are quite messy and complicated.

Fighting certainly doesn’t give anyone the warm fuzzies, but it’s actually a normal and inevitable part of any “healthy relationship.” It can be as trivial as taking out the garbage to more significant as fundamental beliefs and concerns.

“Fighting or arguing doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. “In fact, there are a number of reasons it can be a good thing.”

Reasons why it’s healthy to fight:

  1. It can strengthen your relationship by building and maintaining trust. “We need to be able to have arguments and discussions to be able to maintain relationships,” Dr. Fox said. “Beyond the argument, you can build the trust.”
  2. You’ll feel better. “If you withhold or don’t express yourself, then you’ll inherently feel bad,” Dr. Fox said. “By sharing with your partner or person and vice versa, you’ll have a better understanding of one another’s thoughts, feelings and opinions.”
  3. It improves your own character and personality. “These arguments make you learn ways to adapt and possibly change,” Dr. Fox said.
  4. It’s human nature. “We sure aren’t perfect,” Dr. Fox said. “We don’t have perfect people, and we don’t have perfect relationships or situations. This means we won’t always see eye to eye either.”

While conflict isn’t necessarily destructive to relationships, how we handle it can be. Differences can stir up a lot of emotions, such as anger or resentment. The good news in all of this, though, is that you can learn to fight fair. And in doing so, you can fight clean and can both come out in the end as winners. Here’s how to do it.

10 rules for fighting fairly:

1. Before you begin, ask yourself, “Why am I upset?”

It’s important to check in with yourself and see why what this person is saying or doing is so triggering. Is it about the issue at hand or is there really something else that’s bothering you?

For example, is your argument regarding the overflowing trash that your husband always seems to overlook, or is it that you feel like you are bearing the brunt of the housework and need more help?

2. Forget what you think you know about the person.

You may have known this person for years. You may even know their deepest, darkest secrets, but “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” They can’t read your mind, and you can’t read theirs. Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking, feeling or going to say. And vice versa. Instead, act as if this is someone you’ve just met off the street or at work.

“The reason for this is that when you enter into a conflict, you make assumptions about the person you’re in conflict with,” Dr. Fox. “When you remove those things, it makes listening and resolving the issue easier.”

3. Consider scheduling the discussion.

This not only gives you time to deep breathe out any anger, tension or anxiety you may have over an issue, but it also enables you both to approach the conversation with vulnerability versus feeling attacked.

4. Discuss one issue at a time.

Now is not the time to bring up your laundry list of issues or irrelevant details just to prove your point. In an effort to “win” the fight, you may be tempted to prove your “rightness” and their “wrongness,” but don’t do it. Focus on one issue at a time before moving on to another.

5. Avoid name-calling, character attacks and he said/she said.

When tensions are high, sometimes the claws come out. Retract those claws. Avoid hitting below-the-belt or speaking degradingly to the other person. It may feel good in the moment, but it can do real damage to your relationship in the long run. Stay focused on the topic at hand and not the other person’s character.

6. Use “I” statements.

Use “I” messages to described feelings of anger, hurt or disappointment, such as, “I feel scared when …” or “I feel hurt when …”. Avoid “you” messages, such as, “You make me angry when …”

7. Take turns speaking and listening.

Invite them to share their points of view and use active listening skills. Be careful not to interrupt, and genuinely try to hear them out. Then try and restate what you heard. Saying something like, “So, what I’m hearing you say is that …” is one way to let them know you fully understood.

8. Really important: Don’t yell. Instead, take a time out.

Yelling doesn’t help anyone see your point of view. Instead, it sends the message that only your words matter. If things are escalating or getting heated, take a time out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem when everyone has calmed down.

9. Seek a compromise or understanding.

There’s not always a perfect answer to an argument. Sometimes life is too messy for that. Do your best to compromise (that give and take; that yin and yang). If you can’t compromise, simply try to seek to understand each other’s perspectives.

10. Set “fair fight” boundaries.

One way to play fair during a fight is to create boundaries before your next fight. Set some agreed upon ground rules so you can maintain respect and civility. These might include a zero tolerance for yelling, name-calling or stonewalling—refusing to speak or retreating.

If nothing seems to work

Sometimes you’ve put up a good, healthy fight, but you can’t seem to resolve the conflict. When this happens, talking to a professional can help.

“One reason there is a conflict in relationships is that it signals a change for both parties,” Dr. Fox said. “You aren’t the same individuals. You certainly don’t have the same thoughts and feelings. You have to remember the amazing things within the context of that relationship. And that’s where moderately healthy fighting helps improve relationships. If you’re experiencing anger and contempt though, it may be time for therapeutic interventions.”

A trained mediator can help you communicate more effectively and help you and/or your partner work your way through to a solution. You can visit bannerhealth.com to find a behavioral health specialist near you. You can also locate a specialist through your company’s EAP program or contact your health insurance company for help.

Last word

Remember, conflict is normal—it’s inevitable, really. When managed well, however, it can be used to strengthen relationships with others. So, before you “throw down” with someone, heed the advice and tips above to ensure you give it a good, fair fight.

For additional resources, check out:

Behavioral Health Relationships

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