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How, When, and What to Fight About

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Conflict is inevitable. Misery is optional.

Even the happiest couples have arguments and disputes. But they tend to fight about issues that have clear solutions. For example, practical matters like household chores, money, and scheduling issues can be negotiated – compromise is possible and adequate. Happy couples manage to avoid endless battles that cannot be won (over issues such as religious choices or personality traits of in-laws). A sense of partnership and loving connection is the key.

Here are 3 guidelines for successful fighting in relationships – the what, when and how to resolve conflict and minimize relationship distress.

What to Fight About

  • Pick your battles. Why fight about the same conflict that wasn’t resolved the last time (or the last ten or twenty times).
  • Fight about issues or problems that can be resolved with cooperation and clear, manageable outcomes.
  • Don’t fight about the past. It’s already done. How can we move on together and deal with today?
  • Fight about issues you are willing to be flexible about. Fight about issues that contain the possibility of compromise.

When to Fight

  • Timing is everything. Do you really want to fight just before bedtime or first thing in the morning? Must this problem or dispute be resolved immediately? Can this topic be shelved for later discussion?
  • Don’t fight around the children.
  • Don’t fight around other people in general. Why subject them to your relationship distress?
  • Fight when you can maintain some semblance of calm and emotional equanimity.
  • Fight when you are willing to give and to care. You gotta give some to get some.
  • Most arguments start spontaneously, and you can’t predict when an eruption may occur. When you feel the level of emotional upset or anger escalating, stop, take a break, and agree to discuss the matter calmly at a later time.

How to Fight

  • Develop your own rules for fighting. These rules must include no verbal or physical abuse. Talk to your partner about your own what, where, when and how to fight (and how to make up as well).
  • Don’t fight with a need to be right (then you make your partner wrong and is that really what you want?). Would you rather be right or happy?
  • Approach an argument or fight with a win-win attitude. When one person loses, you both lose in relationship.
  • Fight in the spirit of partnership. We can work this out together, even if we disagree.
  • Listen openly to your partner. Acknowledge their point of view. Your partner may have a good point or two!
  • Speak your truth, be assertive, but avoid aggressive and rigid positions. Ask for what you need – and is that need your partner’s responsibility to fulfill?
  • Let go of expectations, specific outcomes, and any sense of judgment toward other ideas.
  • When appropriate, take responsibility for your part in the problem.
  • Always end the fight with repair and positive connection (such as “I’m sorry for my part in this – I love you, and we will figure this out together.”).

If you find that you are fighting too frequently, or that you cannot follow these guidelines, you will want to consider couples counseling or one of our Connections programs of couples therapy intensives.

Please contact us today for more information, or to schedule a consultation