My Rules for Fighting Fair in a Relationship

So I originally wrote this several years ago, but I found myself handing it out to several clients over the past few months. So I decided to share it with everyone. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Lately, I have had several couples come in with the complaint that they are arguing all the time.  It seems like a strange idea, but I always end up asking, “do you fight fair?”  They often look at me puzzled, so I go on to explain that there are rules when it comes to fighting, especially in marriage.

  1. Don’t say Always/ Never. The first rule is that you cannot use the words Always and Never.  Let’s face it, rarely does anyone “always” or “never” do or say anything.  And if you say, “You never” fill in the blank, it never fails that your partner will remember the one time that they did fill in the blank!  Then you are disarmed, and your argument has been found invalid.  It is better to just avoid always and never when fighting.
  2. Don’t go for the Jugular.  When one partner feels backed into a corner or trapped, they may try to end the conversation by “going for the jugular.” What I mean by this is they might say something that is so horrible (especially if it is true) that it completely shuts down the other partner.  This is usually something from the past and something that the other partner can’t control or change.  It is always mean spirited.  It is effective, but not productive.  It is hard but try not to do this as it does more damage than good.
  3. Don’t bring up the past.  Speaking of the past, don’t go there!  I know it is hard, especially if things are still unresolved.  But try to stay focused on the issue at hand.  You can set up a time to talk about other issues later.  Focus on the current situation, and only the current situation.
  4. Take breaks and breathe. Often things escalate quickly and in the heat of the moment we do and say things we regret later.  Another important thing to do is to take time to think about the real issue and find time to come back together.  This will be very difficult for the person who feels like they need resolution NOW, however, it is critical to help ensure that everyone stays calm and collected during the conversation.  I recommend at least 10 minutes to collect your thoughts.  It is even helpful to write them down, if you can.  But you must come back together.  Some partners will take a break, but then never come back together to talk.  This is not helpful either.  If at any time either partner is getting escalated again, take another break to breathe.  Get your heart rate and blood pressure back down before starting again.  Breathe in your nose and out your mouth at least 3 times. Deep, slow breathes will help you regain your composure.
  5. It’s not always right to be right.  Sometimes both partners just know that they are right and fight tooth and nail to make their case. But most of the time, the better thing to do is just to let it go.  Let them think they are right.  Sometimes, they may even come back and admit that you were right!  Don’t hold your breath, but maybe.  

Fighting in marriage is just one of those things that is going to happen.  It is inevitable.  But if you remember to “fight fair” then hopefully they are more productive, less destructive and can occur less often. 

Day 7 of the Sound House Relationship Check-Up!

Thank you for joining me through the check-up! I hope you have been able to evaluate your relationship and learn a few tips along the way. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If you and your partner are in need of more resources, please visit the Gottman Institute for more information: or if you want to seek out couples counseling from me and you live in PA or TX, reach out by sending an email to or calling 412-550-0222.

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