Every couple fights, but not every couple knows how to fight in a healthy way.
Knowing how to fight fair in marriage is not a walk in the park and if you’re struggling to have peaceful arguments with your spouse, you’re not alone!
Have you ever had one of those fights with your spouse that left you farther apart from each other?
I’m not talking about the small disagreements you have about taking out the trash, doing the dishes, or leaving the toilet seat up or down.
You know those huge fights where there is so much anger, name-calling, and yelling in the heat of the moment?
And you unknowingly say hurtful things to your partner that you can never take back.
Sometimes, this is followed by the silent treatment where you both avoid each other for hours or days until the tension naturally subsides.
This often happens when couples don’t know how to fight fair in marriage, but it’s not too late to learn.
Marital conflicts are unavoidable. If you’re concerned that you’re fighting too much with your partner, you may be worrying excessively.
A 2011 study of more than 3,000 couples carried out by Esure, revealed that couples fight up to 2,455 times a year on average.
That sounds like a lot of fighting, doesn’t it?
Fighting is indeed inevitable in marriage, but there have to be some ground rules in place especially when you’re having difficult conversations.
It’s okay to have frequent arguments as a married couple. However, the way you handle conflicts in your marriage will determine if you’ll end up closer or farther apart.
A good argument involves two-way communication where both partners can express their feelings without fear of criticism or judgment.
In a healthy marriage, the quality of your fights is all that matters.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FIGHT FAIR?
Fair fighting means there are non-negotiable rules that have to be established by a couple beforehand.
If you’re aware of the things that hurt your spouse in any way, you’re not supposed to do them, especially when you fight or argue.
These boundaries need to be respected by both partners at all times.
For example, my husband knows that I hate it when he laughs at me after I make a mistake, so he avoids doing it.
On the same note, I’m aware that my husband despises being yelled at like a child, therefore I always have to keep my emotions under control.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to build a healthy and happy relationship with your spouse, you need to know how to fight fair in your marriage.
This involves being empathetic and considerate to your spouse even when you disagree on something.
WHY DO COUPLES NEED TO FIGHT FAIR?
Fair fighting allows couples to fight in a healthy environment that produces positive results.
With the rules that have already been set, every partner will be obligated to fight fair which gives way to open communication and constructive feedback.
If there are no rules established prior, couples will fight dirty and end up getting hurt in the process. This is not what we want in a healthy marriage!
According to Dr. John Gottman, using negative communication styles like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are the major causes of divorce in a marriage.
Establishing fair fighting rules in your marriage can enable you to identify negative communication patterns and resolve conflicts faster as a team, which will help you achieve a healthier relationship.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid fighting and pretend as if everything is perfect in your marriage.
On the contrary, research has shown that healthy fighting can lead to a happy, loving relationship where boundaries are mutually respected.
It should be clear upfront what is not allowed during a fight or an argument. How can you tell if your fighting is unhealthy?
Unhealthy arguments include name-calling, violence, personal attacks, bringing up past issues into a new fight, stonewalling, not being accountable, and holding a grudge for a long time.
So, how do couples fight fair?
Generally, healthy arguments involve the use of “I” statements to express your feelings, active listening, shared responsibility in problem-solving, taking action steps, and following through with your decisions.
In this article, you’re going to learn how to fight fair as a couple so you can increase your bond with your spouse.
Here are 13 top rules for fighting fair in marriage:
Rule #1: Remember your marriage goals
The goal of an argument in a romantic relationship is to understand each other well and be prepared to handle future conflicts.
Relationship experts say that couples who fight often are more in love with each other because they learn to fight better.
A recent study revealed that long-term couples who have been together for years tend to fight less.
If you’ve not gotten to that point in your marriage yet, it’s important to use your disagreements as a means of getting to know yourselves better, instead of creating a wedge in your relationship.
That means the focus of every fight should be on achieving positive results not putting your spouse down.
One of the biggest mistakes married couples make when fighting is forgetting that they’re a team with the common goal of improving their relationship.
Dr. Daryl Appleton, a Licensed Psychotherapist says, “The goal for a healthy relationship should not be to avoid fighting, but instead to be able to disagree in a way that allows for problems to be solved, and for our partners and ourselves to feel seen and heard.”
Honestly, arguments can help us grow closer to our partners if done in the right way.
When you notice that you’re starting to get hostile during an argument, remember why you got married to your spouse in the first place.
This is the key to dealing with strong feelings that may arise as you argue with your partner.
Rule #2: See your spouse as a teammate
In the heat of an argument, it’s easy to see your spouse as a villain who wants to destroy you completely.
And all you’ll care about is stocking up on armor and being the winner at the end of the day. Fighting dirty like this gets people hurt and you’ll regret it later.
The truth is, when a couple is being defensive and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions, it’s usually difficult to resolve conflicts in a productive way.
The key to fighting fair in marriage is to see your spouse as a team member, not an opponent.
The biggest mistake I made in my first year of marriage was to take wrong advice from family members about how to handle my marriage.
I became paranoid to the extent that I thought my husband didn’t love me enough and that I have to always put my family first before my spouse. It was catastrophic!
We fought all the time until I was finally able to undergo a drastic mindset shift that improved our marriage in a big way.
It took a fair amount of time for me to snap out of that debilitating state of mind, but it was totally worth it.
My new mindset enabled me to establish some boundaries in my life and fully accept my husband as my number one priority.
Rule #3: Keep the communication lines open
When couples engage in unfair fighting, they often use toxic communication styles like stonewalling and giving each other the silent treatment because they’re hurt.
This means that they may not talk again until the tension naturally diffuses. Using this style of communication in marriage is often counterproductive.
It’s understandable to take a break during tense moments to get rid of any negative emotion you’re feeling.
What’s not okay is when a couple refuses to speak to each other for days. Avoiding the problem will not make it go away.
What you’re really doing is storing your problems in a box without finding a workable solution together.
And when you sweep issues under the rug, they often backfire later with more intensity.
The best way to deal with significant disagreements is to keep the communication lines open even though it feels uncomfortable.
Instead of dodging the problem, get some rest and tackle the issue later when everyone is in a better mood.
Rule #4: Don’t criticize or attack your spouse
Playing the blame game, guilt-tripping, or criticizing your spouse isn’t going to make things better.
They could get worse because your significant other will feel attacked by you.
And once a person feels attacked, they are prone to get defensive. You don’t want this to happen during an argument!
Instead of using hurtful words like, “You’re such a terrible person”, try focusing on the real problem.
Statements like “I don’t like seeing dirty dishes in the sink because they look disgusting” would be a better way to express your grievance to your spouse.
It can be disheartening to hear your spouse say hurtful things to you after they’ve said “I love you” a million times over.
If you want to have a fair fight, don’t use dirty tricks like name-calling, playing the blame game, and giving the silent treatment. Criticize the behavior, not the person.
A better approach to handling difficult situations is to tackle specific issues as they arise rather than engaging in personal attacks or bringing up past issues.
Try to avoid areas of personal sensitivity in tense moments because things can blow out of proportion really fast.
Rule #5: Take responsibility for your actions
What do you do when you’re accused of something that you’re guilty of?
Most people deny it and try to turn it around because they don’t want to accept responsibility for their errors.
When you absolve yourself of all mistakes, you’ll only point fingers at your spouse even when you played an active role in creating the problem.
Doing this can lead to an unfair fight where one person is forced to accept all the blame. Don’t take this route when you argue with your spouse.
Find common ground where responsibility is shared equally. Taking responsibility means that you acknowledge your part in causing the conflict.
For example, if your spouse is complaining about how unclean the house is, and you know that you would have finished your chores on time had you not spent two hours on Tiktok watching videos, acknowledge your mistake.
Don’t be tempted to defend yourself because you feel cornered. Admit when you’re wrong and be accountable for your actions.
Being responsible for your deeds is the first step to resolving conflicts in a healthy way.
Rule #6: Apologize when you’re wrong
Effective communication involves speaking your truth without fear, listening attentively, and apologizing when you’re wrong.
People who find it difficult to say sorry often complicate simple issues in their relationship.
By not apologizing, you’re indirectly telling your spouse that you care more about your ego than your marriage. This can lead to resentment, contempt, and unresolved issues.
If you are not on the same page about an issue, resist the temptation to be dismissive or hostile, which can send a clear message that you don’t care about your spouse even if that’s not what you mean.
So when you say hurtful things to your spouse, be quick to apologize so you can both move forward.
Don’t turn a minor issue into a big fight simply because you’re too proud to say “I’m sorry” to your spouse.
Learn to swallow your pride and acknowledge your faults like a responsible person.
Honestly, you’ll resolve conflicts much faster if you’re willing to ask for forgiveness when you offend your partner.
Be a better person and apologize as soon as you’re wrong.
Rule #7: Focus on finding workable solutions together
The major problem most couples have when trying to settle a dispute is that they digress a lot.
One minute, they’re arguing about the toilet seat, the next moment, they’re bringing up past mistakes that have already been resolved.
This is not a good idea for conflict resolution. The number one rule for fighting fair is to stick to the real problem at hand.
There is no need to bring back old conflicts because you’re just going to argue about the same thing each time you fight.
Dr. Cadmona Hall, an associate professor in the Department of Couple and Family Therapy at Adler University, advises couples to create new methods to interrupt old unhelpful patterns.
This means that each partner should share phrases that provide reassurance and validation during unsteady or tense moments to help to neutralize a fight before it escalates.
Dr. Hall recommends couples slow down, pause any part of the conversation that seems difficult, and recalibrate when they are both in a better mood.
Speaking your mind, showing your differences, and paying attention during conversations can help couples find workable solutions together.
Rule #8: Be specific about your needs
Romantic partners who often complain about their needs being unmet are most likely the ones who aren’t clear about what they want.
It’s important to say exactly what you want because your partner is not a mind reader. You’ll be able to solve problems easier if you communicate your needs clearly.
Simple words like “I want to spend more time with you” will be taken more seriously than when you’re bringing up complex issues at once.
Avoid using generalizations that don’t paint the full picture. Go straight to the point and let your spouse know exactly what is bothering you.
Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind as this can lead to them making wrong assumptions about the situation at hand.
Figure out what the real problem is and inform your spouse about the changes you want to see in your marriage.
Being specific about your needs helps to reduce conflicts and unnecessary fights among couples.
Try to express your thoughts and feelings clearly so that your spouse can know how to handle the situation and work with you to find specific solutions.
Rule #9: Avoid yelling or raising your voice
It’s easy to think that raising your voice will give you the upper hand in an argument.
Unfortunately, this is counterproductive because you risk losing the emotional connection you have with your romantic partner.
Speaking to your partner in a harsh tone is a recipe for disaster. The moment you yell or raise your voice, you’re officially declaring war against your spouse.
You may do this unknowingly, but it has a lot of impact on how an argument will turn out. No matter what happens, try to keep your emotions under control.
It may be easier said than done, but if you’re intentional about fair fighting, you can rise above the urge to yell at your spouse.
Have you ever tried to get angry when you whisper? It’s a little bit difficult to stay angry when you speak in a low tone.
The next time you fight or argue with your significant other, keep your voice down. It would be easier to argue constructively if nobody is yelling.
If you’re having a hard time controlling your emotions, take a deep breath and calm down before getting back into the discussion.
Rule #10: Use “I” statements when speaking to your spouse
Addressing your spouse with statements that begin with “You always” can make them feel attacked and defensive at the same time.
Such generalizations exaggerate the actual problem and make them look bigger than they really are.
Pointing a finger at your partner when things go wrong is not the best thing to do during an argument especially when you’re hoping for a good outcome.
Mathew Grishman, a Wealth Adviser at Gebhardt Group Inc. suggests that you can share your perspective by saying “I feel…” rather than “You make me feel…” because this keeps your partner off their guard and can garner some empathy as well.
This is the best way to talk about your feelings rather than accusing your spouse of wrongdoing.
Being empathetic and considerate allows someone to say what they mean without being mean.
It will give your partner a better chance to hear you and understand your feelings rather than immediately being forced to defend themselves or their behavior and cause controversy unknowingly.
Rule #11: Listen to hear instead of waiting to speak
Another big mistake couples make when they argue is not listening to understand because they’re distracted by all the things they want to say to defend themselves from attack.
Being hasty to respond is not a good tactic to apply during an argument.
When you don’t listen attentively, you won’t understand your spouse’s point of view and you’ll end up misinterpreting their intentions.
The best way to prevent misunderstandings and wrongful assumptions is to pay full attention when your spouse is talking and to ask relevant questions about things that are unclear.
Actively listen to your spouse’s words before responding and reflect on what you heard them say, regardless of how their words make you feel.
If your partner feels heard, they will be more open to listening to you and empathizing with you.
When you argue, give each other adequate time to speak and listen to understand before pitching any ideas.
Alternatively, you can take turns to talk about your grievances and any unresolved issues you may have.
This involves creating a safe place for meaningful conversations without distraction from the kids, your gadgets, or the TV.
Making the effort to understand your spouse’s perspective shows them that their point of view matters and that they are important to you.
Rule #12: Respect each other’s boundaries
An important rule in fair fighting is to know each other’s boundaries and respect them at all times.
Whether you’re newlyweds or long-term couples, being sensitive when you argue can save you from getting into trouble.
If you know your spouse’s flaws and triggers, avoid poking at them no matter how angry you are.
Don’t ever disrespect your spouse by crossing their boundaries and reopening wounds that are already healing.
You can easily lose their trust, respect, and love for you if you overstep the limits. As humans, we tend to overcomplicate things by expecting perfection at all times.
As a result, we push people beyond their limits even when they’re not ready for change. If something is out of bounds, avoid toying with it when you fight.
It’s a terrible idea to think that you’re going to get a valid response from your spouse if you hit them where it hurts the most. It never does!
Rule #13: Develop a game plan for making decisions as a couple
If you always fight about the same thing without agreeing on specific solutions, try to agree before a fight on how you will resolve your conflict next time.
It could be a simple agreement that you flip a coin or that you come up with a safe word such as “I need a time out” for arguments.
If this agreement happens in advance, it shows trust in one another.
Having a realistic game plan means that sometimes you will get your way, and other times your partner will get their way.
But in the end, if you trust one another, and you know your partner has your best interest at heart, it’s ok to lose a coin toss and allow them to get their way, even if you’re not in agreement.
This is how to fight fair in marriage.
You can’t expect things to go your way all the time. The key to a better marriage is knowing when to fight and when to compromise for peace.
As a married couple, you’re going to have a lot of fights and arguments especially if you’re newlyweds.
The good news is, you can learn how to fight fair in your marriage and avoid hurting each other.
I’ve mentioned several rules for healthy fighting as a couple. Use these basic guidelines to fight fair and maintain peace in your marriage.
You’ll enjoy a happy, loving relationship with your spouse if you’re more intentional about fighting healthily.
It’s okay if you try everything you can and things don’t improve in your marriage. Sometimes, it takes professional help to identify what is not working.
Don’t hesitate to consult a marriage counselor if you can’t settle your disputes productively.
Couples therapy can help you recognize the negative communication patterns that prevent you and your partner from having healthy fights.
About The Author
Jennifer Dagi is happily married to her best friend and the love of her life. As a relationship coach, she is passionate about helping couples build healthy and happy relationships.
She strongly believes communication and intimacy are important in building a successful relationship.
Join her on a fabulous journey to improve your love life one step at a time and don't forget to subscribe for weekly blog updates.