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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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.