Conflicts with Your Significant Other: How to Fight Fair

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

Even the healthiest relationships will experience rough patches. No two people will always agree, and eventually these disagreements will need to be handled. Conflicts and arguments are not the signs of a bad marriage or partnership. However, how you and your partner handle an argument can be the key to a lasting, loving relationship.

Unfortunately arguments are often stressful and full of emotion. Being overwhelmed with feeling can make it easy for the participants to lash out at each other instead of focusing on the problem and fighting fairly. There are a few tips and ideas to keep in mind that will help you fight fairly, solve problems, and strengthen your relationship.

Do not let small annoyances build up. As you come to a small grievance with your significant other, you must make a choice. You can let the issue go completely, or bring it to their attention. As the list of small problems build, you will eventually have a much larger issue and likely a more out-of-control argument. Small problems, however, can often be handled quickly and with much less difficulty. Are your significant other’s cleaning habits getting to you? Bring this to your partner before you have time to also be bothered by his snoring and bad driving!

Remember that grievances have a time limit. If you are angry about something, you partner has the right to know. There may even be a simple solution! It is unfair to both yourself and your partner to let a problem build. If you have not addressed a problem within 48 hours of the occurrence, you should be prepared to let it go.

Stay on a single subject when you argue. Most people can handle only one problem at a time, so be sure to focus on the issue at hand. If your conflict began over money management, it is OK to discuss a recent unplanned purchase, but leave other bad habits such as smoking or gaming firmly out of the conversation. Definitely avoid bringing up points of contention from the past, especially those that you have worked through and forgiven.

Fight with the focus of finding a solution. Unless you actually solve the problem, the issue will not vanish. A good solution will make everyone happy, and allow you to get back to the positive aspects of your relationship. Work as a team, even as you and your partner butt heads. Keep this question in mind: “What can we do together to solve this problem?” Consider what you are willing to do to contribute to the solution.

Never personalize the problem. As you argue, your focus should be on the issue; attack the issue, not your partner. It is important that you keep ownership of your part of the disagreement. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. “I don’t like dirty dishes in the sink” will always go over better than “You need to clean up after yourself!”

Use time-outs during intense fights. Even when we start out with the best intentions, arguments can get out of hand. If you or your partner appears to be losing control, you can put the argument on “hold.” Stop the discussion and agree to resume at a specific time when you both have calmed down.

Be kind as you fight. Be careful to respect your significant other while you argue; this will help them to respect you as well. Avoid hitting below the belt with comments you know will hurt them emotionally. Leave comments about the past out of the argument. If you are worried that your emotions may get out of control, try holding hands with your partner as you work through your problems; most people find it hard to raise their voice or be disrespectful while holding hands.

Pay attention to your partner as you fight. Many fights begin because one partner feels they are being taken for granted. Listen to what your partner is actually saying while you fight. Is the argument more deep-rooted than dishes in the sink or an expensive purchase? Be sure you understand where they are coming from, and consider their point of view.

Be prepared to forgive each other and move on. Arguing over even the most trivial topics can lead to hurt feelings. Remember that you and your partner played a part in the fight, and you both have something that needs to be forgiven, whether it was the initial disregard or a rude comment during the fight. Both partners should be prepared to forgive each other and forget about the argument in the future.

Fighting fair will not come naturally to everyone. If you and your partner continually try to fight fairly with little success, it may be beneficial for you and your relationship to include an impartial third party. A counselor can help you learn the rules of fair fighting, work with you as you practice these rules, and help you and your partner work through larger issues.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.

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