Love and The Art of Fair Fighting

Learning the Art of Fair Fighting is essential to a lasting relationship. Many people view fighting as bad and destructive. It is important to accept that no two people think or feel exactly alike; disagreements are unavoidable and are a natural part of all relationships. 

Think of fighting as an effort to negotiate differences in a relationship. The trick is to learn to negotiate in a manner that is mature and respectful. How you fight will enhance or damage your relationship. Disagreements about money, household chores, sex, parenting, jobs, extended family, time and socialization are all universal grievances that lead to fights.

The art of managing conflict is necessary in order to have enduring love. Couples who at not skilled at the art of fair fighting often attempt to “win” by resorting to name calling, character assaults, and saying things that they later regret. Other couples avoid fighting by hiding their differences and authentic feelings. If you are unable to fight, it is impossible to bring your true self to the relationship. Thus, the relationship becomes a fake, pseudo-intimate, boring shell that is void of true intimacy and lacking in passion.

Mature and lasting healthy relationships require that couples master the art of fair fighting. Source: Fight Fair: Winning at Conflict without Losing at Love (9780802414281): Tim Downs, Joy Downs: Books. 

Questions to ask yourself:
Is the fight about something that I need to let go of? What is really bothering me, is it this or something else?
Am I feeling defensive because I want to avoid saying that I am sorry?
Am I clear about my request of my mate? If so, is it realistic?
How much am I willing to compromise?

Remember, Fair Fighting is helpful to your relationship. Managing conflict constructively can help you to gain closeness through cooperating, problem solving together and gaining greater insight into each other’s perspective. It is crucial to learn to handle conflict without harming the relationship.  Fair fighting is like a cooperative dance. It is often said that if either partner wins, the relationship loses.

Make an appointment to fight. Don’t blurt out issues when you are rushed for time. Commit to talking about issues when you have enough time for a thorough discussion. However, avoid waiting longer than 72 hours because stockpiling grievances can result in an outpouring of every slight since you first met.

Learn to distinguish between a tsunami and high tides. Label your grievances on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being things that are potential deal breakers. Employ different strategies for fights over minor irritations verses those involving major complaints.

50/50 Rule: Spend 50% of your time talking and 50% listening. Each partner should agree to take turns talking and listening — truly listening and not planning a rebuttal. Each person should repeat their partner’s point until the partner agrees that their point is understood. If you find yourself having the same fight again and again, it is usually an indication that one or both partners feel that they have not been heard.

Choose your words carefully. Keep in mind that the purpose of your communication is to get your message across to your mate. Remember that “ears shut off” at the first sign of an attack. Don’t shoot from the hip by saying everything that you feel at the moment.

Stay focused on the topic. Don’t throw in distractions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Learn to identify and articulate your feelings and to make specific requests for your unmet needs. The aim is to maintain goodwill for each other while finding solutions instead of assigning blame.

Never threaten to leave. Many people continuously threaten to leave as a way of disarming their mate and derailing needed discussions. It also eats away at your mate’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship and further exacerbates your problems.  Ending your relationship is a serious decision that is worthy of a separate discussion and should not be injected in the midst of an argument about household chores, finances, extended family, etc.

Never say anything for the purpose of hurting your mate. Your words are like a weapon that wounds your mate’s soul. Once it is said, it remains with your mate, and an apology will not erase the memory of the hurt. If you intentionally injure your mate, they will feel that their heart is not safe with you and it will prevent them from sharing future vulnerabilities.

Be willing to apologize. Saying “I am sorry, I was wrong” goes a long way in healing a wounded spirit.

No yelling/name calling. Fair fighting cannot occur in an environment that is disrespectful and hostile. Many couples find it helpful to face each other and hold hands while discussing difficult topics — a reminder that they are speaking to the person they love.

Take a time out. Each partner can request and be granted a time out. If you find that you are losing your temper, time to regroup is in order to remain in a constructive dialogue. Most people need 15 minutes to ½ hour to calm down.  Get a cold drink or put some water on your face. This can help you to return with a fresh outlook, ready to continue the discussion.

End the fight right. Check in with each other to make sure that everyone has gotten everything off their chest. The reason that couples have the same fight over and over again is because one or both partners do not feel that they got their point across or held something back. Often the most important feelings are withheld until the end — especially if the person feels shame or guilt.

Have Zero Tolerance for Abuse. Healthy relationships cannot exist in the presence of abuse. Violence of any sort is totally unacceptable. 

Abuse is: Any unwanted touch which includes: Shoving, pushing, slapping, blocking exit, shaking, restraining, hitting, biting, pinching, choking, non-consensual sex, etc.

Physical or verbal threats; raised fist, destroying partner’s property, throwing or breaking things. These acts cause the other partner to feel unsafe. Each partner must have a sense of safety or a healthy relationship is not possible. If either partner is unable to control their anger or the situation becomes abusive, seek help immediately.

More information on abusive relationships, characteristics, consequences and recovery strategies:

NYC Domestic Violence Hot Line: 1-800-621-4673
U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline: