How to Fight Fairly In a Relationship: 11 Tips to Avoid Hurt Feelings

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One of the most challenging relationship myths I’ve had to unlearn is that fighting is inherently bad for a relationship. No one taught me how to fight fairly in a relationship—or that fighting fair is more important than not fighting at all!

Growing up, I heard all about how my parents never fought before their divorce. It was a point of pride, signaling theirs was a marriage that shouldn’t have ended. Of course the media supported this belief. Divorce was for couples who fought constantly. Couples who stayed together rarely fought, didn’t have to work on their relationship, and could read each other’s mind.

Basing the health of your relationship only on how often you fight is utterly misguided

This belief that fighting = bad is so ingrained that I still think most fights with my beau are The End! Obviously me freaking out about which appliance he used to make the dressing (for the record: it should have been the blender) can outweigh over a decade of love & devotion.

These days the freak-outs only last a moment or two, instead of causing days of angst. It also helps to know that I’m not alone in this hyperbolic thinking. Friends whose relationships I admire as well as my counseling clients struggle with this as well.

Fighting fair is far healthier for your relationship than never speaking up.

Fact: your honey is going to hurt your feelings at some point and vice versa. It’s unavoidable when two people with their own baggage and life experiences come together! Even if your core values are similar, there’s something you won’t agree on. Hopefully it’s tiny like the aforementioned blender vs food processor fiasco in the midst of which I blurted, “I don’t even know why I’m mad at you about this and I know it’s stupid and I’ll probably write about it someday…”

Keeping your emotions inside isn’t healthy for your or your relationship. Not naming & processing them keeps you stuck in the stress cycle which wreaks havoc on your body – think poor sleep, brain fog, a constant sense of unease, tense muscles, and more. Plus, those emotions build up until you explode at your honey and then the fight is way bigger than it could have been if you talked through those emotions from the start.

That doesn’t mean you should scream & shout about every single thing your love does that bugs you.

If you are, that’s a fantastic sign to seek outside support. You have the right to name and feel your feels. Learning how to fight fairly in a relationship helps you do so without hurting each other (as much) or damaging the relationship itself.

Additionally, fighting is a form of communicating. It isn’t the best way, but it can be a tool to deepen your communication. Listen closely to what is & isn’t said during the fight, including what’s going through your brain, and you’ll find there’s lots of wisdom for you to learn from.

You can learn how to fight fairly in a relationship

Fighting fair is about using the right words, avoiding the wrong ones, and staying in touch – literally & figuratively.

11 tips for Fighting Fair

  1. Keep it focused. You’re pissed at them or vice versa. I get it but that doesn’t give you the right to bring up every little thing they’ve ever done that bugged you. Focus on the issue at hand and leave the rest for another time. And yes I know how fucking hard this is! This is also the reason the beau and I bicker fairly often. When something bugs me, I bring it up, we hash it out, and then we move on. That way nothing festers.
  2. Ask yourself if you want to be right or free. As Danielle LaPorte says, choose “free.” TBH I usually want both, which is where #3 comes in.
  3. Choose your battles. It drives me absolutely bonkers that the beau doesn’t put the pan back into the toaster oven. When we first started living together, I told him that all the time. Then I realized that I’m the only one who cares! That left me a choice: to try to change what he cares about or to put the damn pan back every day while shaking my head, grumbling, and smiling ruefully. The former is impossible so I went with the latter. And guess what? He’s way better at putting the pan back now. #irony
  4. Touch each other throughout. This could be as simple as holding hands or resting your legs in their lap. Choose something non-activating. You don’t have to be all up on each other!
  5. It’s ok to go to bed angry or for one of you to sleep on the couch. Making a habit of these isn’t great but if it’s all too much, sleep and/or space gives you both some additional perspective.
  6. Know what’s off limits. The downside of deep intimacy? It’s so easy to deeply hurt those closest to us. You know exactly which buttons to push to inflict the most pain. Do not use those, m’dear. They put you on the train to defensiveness & stonewalling, two of John Gottman’s 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse. At a time when you aren’t fighting, make a list of the things that are absolutely off limits to bring up in an argument. May I suggest doing this together and sharing your lists? If you feel yourself getting close to using one, follow #7 or #8 below.
  7. Breathe. Deeply. In and out. Alternatively, tell them you need a moment (this part is key), walk away, and take a breather. I love using this GIF to calm and ground me.
  8. It’s also ok to not talk to them for a little bit. If you know you’re about to say something you’ll regret (see #6), take a deep breath and tell them. This gives you time & space to discharge some stress, see where you’re really mad at yourself & taking it out on them, and refocus on the issue at hand. Once, during a monster of a fight, I snapped, “I have nothing kind to say right now so to avoid causing serious damage to our relationship, I’m not talking to you.” It lasted hours during which I cried, journaled, and text-ranted to friends. Later, we had a beautifully deep & vulnerable conversation about what happened and how we can prevent similar going forward. Challenging? Yes. Powerful? Absofuckinglutely.
  9. Own your half. In any argument, you’re both right and you’re both to blame. Read that again for me and then please don’t click away! Back to that monster fight. While reflecting & not talking to my beau, I realized that the situation hit my my “I feel like a burden” sensor. I was mad at him, yes. I also had feelings I didn’t want and was mad at myself for having those feelings! WHEW. When we talked, I addressed where I felt unsupported by him and confessed that part of my anger was misdirected. I’ve found this to be true in every single argument.
  10. Own your half, part 2. So you’ve owned that you are partly responsible for the fight. The key word there is partly. Don’t go beating yourself up darling or letting your inner mean girl take over. And if she starts to, try #2 on this list.
  11. Give yourself some TLSC (tender, loving self-care) after. Regardless of the “outcome,” fighting is vulnerable and often leaves you feeling icky. Take a bath, read a steamy romance novel, go for a walk, journal, color, or do whatever else feels yummy and nourishes you.

Learning how to fight fairly in a is an invaluable relationship skill.

It means you get to the end of the argument and your relationship is ok. The issue may not be resolved, but you remembered the most important thing: you love your partner(s) and that trumps whatever disagreements happen along the way.

158 thoughts on “How to Fight Fairly In a Relationship: 11 Tips to Avoid Hurt Feelings

  1. We try to still be kind to each other and try to speak in calm voices. Usually we talk things out. Thanks so much.

  2. My tip is to keep lines of communication open. Be respectful of the other person and give them a chance to speak when arguing.

  3. I fight fair by not trying to make a big issue over the little things and by accepting my husband for who he is and not trying to change him. I communicate how I feel and do not let things build up and then get mad and start a fight.

  4. After 45 years of marriage, we don’t fight much. Whatever way he wants it, that’s what we do. (He would say the opposite is true!)

  5. I fight fair by keeping my voice as calm as possible and keeping focused on the issue, not any feelings of anger.

  6. Recognize that no one is perfect. Move your attitude from all or nothing to realistically accepting the foibles and failures of others without trying to convert them. This requires both planning and empathic communication. Yes, I’m actually telling you to plan your fight.

  7. We make sure we let each other get all our words and thoughts out. No interruptions until we are done expressing our feelings. We come up with a plan to resolute.

  8. I fight fair by not fighting much at all and they are more discussions than fights.
    jslbrown2009 at aol dot com

  9. I’ve learned through the year, that my secret for fighting fair is to claim down and think before I speak …because once said it and heard it can NOT be taken back

  10. I fight fair by letting the other person say what they need to say without interrupting

    groogruxking40 @ gmail dot com

  11. My tip is to always be open to hearing their side, and put yourself in their shoes, try to be understanding. Thanks for the nice giveaway

  12. You have to listen with your whole self even when all you want to do is talk. You have to repeat back what you think you hear too.

  13. My husband and I try not to get to the point that it’s a “fight”, and he’s also really great at apologizing, which helps me to do the same.


  14. I fight fair by making sure I understand my husband’s side of things. I’m often far off base with knowing what he’s thinking until I take the time to listen.

  15. In fighting fair never use the words You always and you never and dont say things out of anger, walk away til you can cool down

  16. I try to just let the little things go and discuss the big things rather than fight over them. Also I take blame for things that I am to blame for right off the bat.

  17. There will always be disagreements in relationships but you need to pick your fights and be respectful.
    cshell090869 at aol dot com

  18. A fair fight doesn’t dredge up things that were told in confidence that have nothing to do with the current issue just to hurt the other party.

  19. To fight fairly, I just need to step back and look at things at his perspective. Constantly checking to make sure if those are things worth fighting about. Honestly, I don’t like to fight…if at all possible. 😉

    amy [at] uTry [dot] it

  20. Good advice given to me in “fighting fair” – whomever has more at stake or cares more about the certain outcome of the conflict in question, the pair should decide to go with that. So if one person is REALLY looking forward to a certain evening, and the other could care less, then go with what the super looking forward to it person needs on that particular conflict. Not always perfect, but puts into perspective and prioritizes the relationship versus the “win.”

  21. My best tip is to really listen to the other person. It’s instinct to tune them out and be thinking about your next point without considering their point of view.

  22. Before I even open my mouth, I think about something I love about him. It just keeps from saying something out of anger or frustration that I would regret.

  23. My secret for fighting fair is remembering the scars and baggage my spouse carries from his upbringing and previous relationships, and that helps me see his side. Even if I still disagree, it helps me understand where he’s coming from.

  24. The way that my marriage has survived for 34 years is by not fighting. I am lucky to be married to a man with no temper, and I don’t get mad easily. I always stop and think if the reason I’m getting angry will matter a year from now. or 2 years from now. the answer is almost always no.

  25. I am also a child of divorce and have all of the cliche issues associated with that plight. I also brought fairness into my marriage because of it. We have several “rules” for fighting in our home: never part/go to bed angry, never walk out of the room/leave the house if the fight is not over, and never curse at each other in anger. I can’t say that we abide by these rules 100% but it is in the high 90% range and we have been married just over 23 years.

  26. My husband and I argue a lot but we both agree that we are in this for life so we never try to hurt each other. we always get through the arguments and we live and learn and get better. we are both very strong willed and we compromise. fighting is inevitable but it doesn’t have to be bad. as long as you know you are in this forever you won’t get so upset over things that don’t really matter.

  27. I aim to really listen, rather than think about what I want to say next while my guy is talking. Breathing and reminding myself that we’re crazy about each other (even when it feels craaaaazy ;)) also help!

  28. Keep these words out of any conversation: “you NEVER…” and “you ALWAYS…”
    Thanks for the contest.

  29. To fight fair my best advice is to not act swiftly, but to take time to think about a plan of action. For me, I try to pray first for wisdom.

  30. #SweepstakesEntry- comment

    this is a good question. I have to admit I still don’t know how to fight fair- seems even when I try to be adult and bring up the topic in a calm manner, it erupts into a screaming match and this is with my housemate LOL I’m not married and I’m not in a relationship- just live with a male house mate

  31. My secret is to think what you would feel if you were in the other persons shoes. Perspective makes all the difference.

  32. For me the most important thing is to not say anything that is a personal attack. Saying “I’m not happy with you” (or your action, or your decision) is ok……saying “YOU’RE (this) OR YOU always….. is not.

  33. I have to keep reminding myself about fair fighting tactics because sometimes I revert into fighting like my parents did.

  34. I try to put myself on the other side of the argument and look at the pros and the cons

    tbarrettno1 at gmail dot com

  35. My tip is to watch what you say when you’re mad, because if you say the wrong things you can’t take it back

  36. Don’t bring up all the little things that are annoying when the argument is about something else entirely. Keep focused and listen to the other side.

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