How to Fight Fair in Marriage

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Whether they admit it or not, all married couples fight. Knowing how to fight fair in marriage is the key to whether you will have a successful, long-term marriage. Arguing fairly with respect for each other is a critical marital skill you must learn if you want your love to last. The way you fight often tells psychologists more than what you fight about. Learning how to communicate your feelings in the midst of a heated discussion can make or break your relationship. Being passive-aggressive or overly vocal in your response will only lead to bigger arguments, negative feelings, and eventually, separate lives. But if done correctly, conflict and healthy, fair fighting can strengthen your marriage

Tools You Need to Fight Fair in Marriage

While the concept of fighting fair in marriage is one we could all get behind, putting the idea into practice takes the desire to put your marriage first. While you might think you are definitely in the right, having the ability to listen to your spouse's point of view is important. Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. says, "Try to listen to your partner’s feelings, irrational as they may seem to you in that moment. Then say something warm and understanding. Stress that it doesn’t really matter who’s right." Being willing to forgive and aware of when to apologize are key components of fighting fair. If you are the one apologizing, Hal Shorey, Ph.D. advises, "Practice controlling your emotions in advance of the apology. You may not be able to pull off the apology if your emotions are too close to the surface. Of course, you know yourself best and will want to balance being emotionally present and authentic with being able to apologize without freezing, attacking, or running away. Write it down on paper before trying to do it in person because when you are in person your thoughts may become disorganized and you might not remember what you wanted to say."

"Being willing to forgive and aware of when to apologize are key components of fighting fair."

Read below for our 15 quick tips for fighting fair in your relationship.

Things to Avoid When Fighting with Your Spouse

Even though it may be hard to forgive your spouse, refusing to forgive can cause more harm both emotionally and physically to yourself and your marriage. Holding a grudge is like letting someone else live in your head rent-free. Psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, and relationship coach, Nancy Colier LCSW, Rev. says, "The problem with grudges, besides the fact that they are a drag to carry around (like a bag of sedimentized toxic waste that keeps us stuck in anger) is that they don’t serve the purpose that they are there to serve. They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt. At the end of the day, we end up as proud owners of our grudges but still without the experience of comfort that we ultimately crave, that we have craved since the original wounding."

The funny thing is that conflict with your spouse is not the problem—all married couples disagree. It's not knowing how to argue effectively that creates difficulty in marriage. Using words like "never" and "always" along with threatening tones are easy patterns to fall into that are detrimental to any marriage. Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST, notes that "Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse in which a person uses words or threats to gain or maintain power and control over someone. Being on the receiving end of verbal abuse can cause a person to question their own intelligence, value, or self-worth."

Fighting fair with your spouse is not to fight to win, but to fight for your relationship. "Think about what your goals are for your relationship and make your actions ones that will move you toward those goals," says Firestone. Be willing to compromise. After 15 minutes, if you haven't reached an agreement, call a truce and set a time to discuss the issue again when emotions are less elevated. "There are times in couple conflict when we feel overwhelmed with emotion and find it hard to think clearly. Nathan Cobb, Ph.D., indicates that "Sometimes anger gets the better of us. Sometimes, we say things that we later wish we had not said. During such times, we may lose sight of our own responsibility and focus on what is wrong with our partner. Real listening and heart-to-heart communication break down. The more we try to address the problem, the worse things get. One oft-mentioned antidote to this situation is to take a break—a time-out—to create space to calm down, to get into a different state of mind to find solutions."

15 Tips for How to Fight Fair in Marriage

  1. Don't let little things that bother you build up until you explode. 
  2. If you are angry about something and don't try to talk about it with your spouse within 48 hours, let it go. 
  3. If your spouse doesn't want to discuss the matter, set an appointment within the next 24 hours to have a fair fight. It is OK to go to bed angry—you need your sleep. Just make sure that the issue is addressed the next day.
  4. Fighting fair means both parties know what the issue is—and stick to the subject.
  5. Keep your fight between the two of you. Don't bring in third-parties like your mother-in-law, his best friend, or your children.
  6. Fighting fair means, you maintain respect for each other and don't hit below the belt. 
  7. Fighting fair means you don't bring up your history.
  8. Fighting fair means no name-calling. Even endearing terms and pet names can be hurtful when you are using an overly sarcastic tone.
  9. Be careful how you use humor—laughter is good, but teasing can be misinterpreted and hurtful.
  10. Listen and maintain eye contact with one another fully while you fight. 
  11. Don't interrupt your spouse during a fight.
  12. Don't blame one another or make accusations.
  13. Try to use "I" sentences instead of "you" sentences.
  14. If the two of you are not extremely angry, try to hold hands while talking during your fight.
  15. Be open to asking for forgiveness and be willing to forgive.

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