Arm wrestling couple

Fighting fairly can enrich your relationship

Written by Dr Isabel Fernandez

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This guest post from psychologist Dr Isabel Fernandez talks about fighting in relationships and how to do so fairly and without hurting your partner. We all have differences of opinion, that makes us human, the way we deal with those differences determines whether these arguments can be beneficial or not. 


The way couples fight or the absence of fighting altogether is an interesting aspect of any couple relationship.

Often, couples will announce with pride “we hardly ever argue!”  I am left wondering how does that work – how can any two people possibly agree on everything? I wonder, is one individual suppressing their preferences or point of view?  How does each individual go about getting their needs met? Where do the negative feelings go? What underpins the constant agreeing – is it avoidance of conflict due to fear of abandonment? Is it over self-sacrifice on one’s part. A lack of self belief perhaps? Is it a previous history of fighting going very badly?  A number of contributing factors come to mind. In the realm of couple therapy, what we do know is that it is not so much how often couples fight but the way they fight that can strengthen or hurt a relationship.

There are some principles of fair fighting that can provide us with some direction as to a helpful versus an unhelpful approach to fighting with our partner. Ultimately, the principle is that you don’t want to be the “winner” as such because in doing so, your loved one is likely to be left feeling like the “loser”. That is not a feeling we want for our loved ones. It is incompatible with resolution, repair and relationship growth. I have listed some points to consider.  Are you skilled in these aspects of fighting? I often ask couples to identify the areas they themselves wish to improve on. This tends to be more constructive then focusing on what your partner could do better.

  • Be specific.
  • Use small voices.
  • Don’t aim to be the winner.
  • Know what it is that you want.
  • Speak in a polite, confident and honest manner.
  • No insults.
  • Stay present focused.
  • Do not walk away from the argument without making another time to come back to it.
  • Be mindful of your posture and body language.
  • Don’t assume you have heard the person say what they are saying before.
  • Avoid interrupting the other person when they are expressing their view.
  • Decide that for your part you remain calm and respectful even if the other person doesn’t.
  • Avoid blaming and accusing.
  • Avoid using guilt.
  • Give the other person your full attention, rather than rehearsing what you are going to say next in your mind.
  • Acknowledge your own contribution to the issue.
  • Be prepared to relinquish any ill feelings to allow for a fresh start.

This is all easier said than done and I am yet to meet a couple who practice all of the above consistently.

I encourage all couples to set themselves personal goals in the realm of fighting fairly in aim of developing a healthy way of reaching a mutual understanding of our partner’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can be a fun and rewarding challenge!


Dr Isabel Fernandez is a clinical psychologist from the “Dr Isabel Fernandez and Associates” practice.
Link to their website here:   Dr Isabel Fernandez and Associates

Seasons Online thanks Isabel for her thoughts on this interesting topic




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