How to Fight Fairly in Your Relationship

There has never been a better time to learn how to fight fairly.

Around the world couples have spent many months in social isolation, naturally uncovering the hidden or not so hidden differences of opinion, personal quirks and values. Even the happiest of couples, when put under these conditions, are having to deal with a wealth of relational issues. Learning how to deal with these differences effectively, not only stops them from growing out of proportion but also prevents couples from emotionally distancing themselves in order to cope. To have a beautiful relationship, you need to be on the same page, have each other’s back, laugh at life’s daily silliness and fight. Yes, you read that right! Fight. The goal isn’t to be a couple that never fights because that isn’t a healthy relationship either.

Healthy conflict in a relationship allows the couple to understand each other’s inner world and work together as a team, because it’s not so much what you’re saying that’s causing the friction, but often how you’re saying it.

Of course, there are certain red flag fights where it would be beneficial to enlist the help of a professional. These include the arguments over infidelity, arguments that involve physical violence, intimidation, strong language or that involve children. There is often a list of hot topics that can set couples up for a disagreement. These could be finances, parenting, in-laws, friends, imbalance of responsibility and more. However, there are often everyday things that couples end up having a fight over too. These include the dirty dishes that are sitting next to the sink, or yet “another” online shopping delivery. While struggles over everyday occurrences that get under each other’s skin can seem cliché, it’s very real. Fortunately, there are some easy, go-to strategies you can both use to relieve the tension.

Why is it that some couples have no problem discussing these topics when others end up giving each other the silent treatment? It all comes down to how you both approach the subject. Here are the five best things to do to fight fairly.

  1. Start how you intend to finish

If you know that you need to raise the issue about the dirty dishes, again, then the outcome of the conversation is very much dependent on how you start it. If you come in guns blazing, your partner is automatically going to get defensive. Then neither of you are going to hear the other one because you’re too busy trying to prove why each of you are right. Soften how you start the conversation, be aware of your tone, body language and choice of language. “Why are there dirty dishes in the sink?” versus “I notice there are more dishes in the sink…”

  1. Listen to understand, before being understood

Try to understand where your partner is coming from before you launch into all of your reasons. Once your partner gets everything off their chest and feels like you can understand where they’re coming from and how they feel, a lot of the emotional charge will be released from the conversation. The mantra you need to remember is “I understand what you’re saying, what you’re feeling and where you’re coming from.”

  1. Discuss the issue at hand and not the whole story

When we’re in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of when, where, why and who said what. Try to avoid getting bogged down with these as they’re often not necessary in dealing with the issue that you’re fighting over. For example “When I notice the pile of dishes on the kitchen sink…”. Versus, “Yesterday, you left out three mugs and I asked you to move them. In the afternoon when I came home from the shops, and they still weren’t touched, I sent you a message….”

  1. You’re not actually fighting over those dishes

Usually behind every fight over the ordinary mundane things lies an emotional root cause. If you take the time to figure out why the action or lack of action from your partner is causing you to feel angry, frustrated or annoyed, you’ll usually find the emotional reason. Expressing this creates a softer conversation than going in with blame and attack.

For example, dirty dishes in the sink = I don’t feel valued or I feel like I’m being taken for granted.

  1. For every unhappy interaction we need at least five happy ones

While this point isn’t about what to do during a fight, it’s an important one to engage in after the fight. It’s also important to maintain when you’re not fighting. Couples need to have a wealth of happy, positive interactions to keep the warmth and connection alive. These positive interactions are investments into the overall happiness of the relationship. When you have banked plenty of positivity, then one negative interaction or fight doesn’t take away the vitality of the whole relationship. According to research, couples are only emotionally available to each other 9 per cent of the time – ouch! So that pretty much guarantees we will spend the other 91 per cent of the time mismatching our communication and understanding.

Naturally conflict is going to happen. It can be a greater way for couples to increase their understanding of their partner’s inner world. Fortunately, when our positive interactions take over, the impact of those fights about nothing will diminish. That’s a pretty good reason to learn how to fight fairly.

Julia Nowland is the founder of Whole Heart Relationships. She specialises in helping parents of young children prioritise their relationship and strengthen their love. You can find out more on her website here. 

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