Relationship Rehab Series Part 2: Fighting Fair

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**The Relationship Rehab Series focuses on the intersection between mental health and intimate relationships. Specifically we look at ways to optimize your love life through psychologically proven practices.**

Check out Part 1: Starting the Conversation here:

Fighting Fair in Relationships

Today you’re going to learn how to fight with your spouse!

Why? Because conflict is natural and you need to be able to do it well to have a thriving relationship!

As the guys from my favorite podcast, “Manager Tools” say – “conflict can be defined as two people in the same county.”

Same can be said about relationships. When we’ve been with someone for an extended amount of time there’s bound to be some tensions. And that’s okay!

In fact, if conflict is handled properly, it can lead to a deeper connection in your relationship.

But only if you Fight Fair!

So without further ado, let’s get to it!

**Bonus, check out me and hubby talking about the Rules of Fair Fighting***

Engage, Don’t Accuse

Your concerns are valid. If something bothers you, you have every right to bring it up to your spouse.

The problem is a lot of us are uncomfortable or don’t know how to ask for what we need from a partner. So it comes out as shouting, accusing, blaming. Basically, if we’re not good communicators we’ll do anything we can do to grab and hold their attention, even if it’s hurtful.

This always leads to a bad time for everyone and some very hurt feelings.

The best thing to do in this situation is remain calm and engage your partner instead of accusing them. Some fighting fair rules for this are:

  1. Ask to connect instead of unleashing – This helps to make both parties feel engaged instead of one feeling attacked.
  2. Find a good time to talk – not when your partner first walks in the door or when they’re pre-occupied with something else.
  3. Depersonalize the issue make it about the situation, not about your partner. This reduces defensiveness and allows you both to talk about the situation without a ton of emotion.

An example with the assistance of Drake:

Stay on topic, Stay in the present

If your ultimate aim is to get your partner to take out the garbage, it doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense to bring up how they never take the kids to baseball practice.

But, you and I both know, it’s reallllly easy to slip into the blame game and get off topic during a fight. It’s also all too simple to start bringing up issues from the past that haven’t been resolved.

Getting off topic and drudging up stuff from the past is a sure way to reach a boiling point. Fast. And that’s usually the time where the gloves come off and people really start getting hurt.

The best thing to keep your fighting fair is to stick to the situation. Here are some steps to avoid the swerve:

  1. Walk Away – Take a break as soon as the conversation starts going off topic. Take a moment to breathe. Reorganize your thoughts and remember what you wanted from this whole interaction in the first place.
  2. Utilize a Parking Lot – No I’m not saying go fight in a parking lot (been there, done that, got the t-shirt). I’m saying if issues from the past come up, out them in the Parking Lot to discuss later. It’s helpful to write these things down somewhere like a whiteboard.
  3. Write it Down – the best way to stay on topic is to write it all out before you even approach your partner. This’ll help you get your thoughts in order as well as be a great guide to keep you on track during the heat of battle.

Keep it A good, Clean fight

I cannot stress this enough: do not be mean when you’re in conflict with your spouse. It’ll only make things worse.

To clarify, being mean includes but is not limited to: name calling, sarcasm, condescension, gas-lighting, stonewalling, talking about divorce/leaving, emotional manipulation, and of course physical violence.

If you use these tactics, you might win the battle but you are sure as hell going to loose the war. Unkindness during conflict (aka contempt) is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.

The best thing to do is to keep fighting fair. Leave the acid out of your words and just watch how fast the tension starts to alleviate between the two of you. Promise.

Some ways to help with this:

  1. Use “I Feel” statements – these statements communicate feelings and help diffuse the natural tension that comes with a fight. This is something that helps me when I just want to yell, scream, and cuss at my husband (I’m kind of a firebrand in case you didn’t know).
  2. Have a mediator present – having a trained third party like a couples counselor present to mediate your fights is really helpful. They can stop and redirect you if the conversation starts to get nasty.
  3. Act like you’re talking to a child – Clearly, don’t actually treat your spouse like a child (that’s condescending). What you should do though is ask yourself, “if I said this to myself as a child, would it make me cry?” If the answer is yes, don’t say it.
  4. Use the Socratic Method – Before speaking in anger, it’s always good to run it through these checks: “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” if it’s not all three of these things, don’t say it.

Lead with Empathy

As much as your partner may frustrate you, it’s important to remember they didn’t wake up trying to ruin your day.

It’s also critical to remember that they might be going through a lot themselves. It’s easy to get so caught up in our own anger, we can’t see our partner’s pain.

The best thing to do here is lead with empathy. This helps you step back and see that there could be myriad reasons why your spouse wouldn’t take out the trash and not just that they’re a lazy bum.

Some ways you can lead with empathy:

  1. Use some Unconditional Positive Regard – this is operating on the assumption that you’ve got each other’s best interests at heart. Whether you believe it or not, it’s ultra helpful to see things from this positive perspective, especially while fighting.
  2. Consider external events – does your spouse have a really draining job? Do they have a chronic medical condition? Is there a pandemic apocalypse happening outside that might be affecting their mental well being?? It’s never as simple as you think so try to factor in external events before you get mad.
  3. Remember that it takes two to tango – average couples’ problems are very rarely one sided. Even something as simple as taking out the trash is going to be affected by how both of you act. Take responsibility for your half and use that to work towards a compromise.

Wrap Up

Whew, that was a lot! I hope you learned a few things about fighting fair today!

Real talk this is an important subject for me. I’m not telling you this stuff because I’m the paragon of relationships. Far from it actually.

I’m sharing this because I came from a family that fought emotionally dirty. That’s right, we were the kind to throw sand in your eyes and kick you while your guard was down. Not nice.

So it’s taken me a lot of time to unlearn those tactics, in fact I’m still unlearning at age 30. The reason why I share this stuff is to show if I can do it, anyone can.

In case no one’s ever told you: I believe in you. I believe you can have a good relationship. I believe you can have great mental health. Just remember to fight fair and lead with empathy and you’ll be just fine <3

Much Love,


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