Fighting with your partner probably isn't super high on your list of favorite things to do, but even (or perhaps especially) the healthiest couples fight sometimes. It's normal to disagree and normal to argue, even if it sounds a bit counterintuitive. Knowing how to fight, however, is important, because doing these things during a fight will help you make up sooner, but also because it can help ensure that you're fighting in a way that's productive, respective, and won't cause too much undue harm to your relationship.
You may have heard about "fighting fairly" and why it's important to leave past mistakes in the past, stay far, far away from verbal abuse, and the like, but you might not be as familiar with some of the techniques that can help you make it through a fight and to the "friends again" part more quickly and — hopefully — painlessly.
"Fighting in relationships is not a bad thing," Hope Mirlis, a wedding officiant and pre-marital counselor, tells Romper in an email exchange. "It means that you each care about something or how you like to be treated and you feel it’s important to let the other know."
If you're dealing with violence or addiction, however, you can't necessarily rely on certain techniques to help the way that you fight. In those cases, as Amy Ammerman, MS, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, tells Romper in an email exchange, you really should seek professional help.
But if you're not dealing with addiction or violence in your relationship, following certain guidelines really might make a big difference in both the way you fight and how soon you're able to move forward.
1. Calmly Announcing Your Argument
Though you might not think that announcing to your partner that you feel an argument coming on would do all that much to help, you might be surprised if you try it out for yourself. "This is what I do with my husband as well, when I feel like we’re about to have an argument, I’ll say, ‘we’re about to have an argument and I’m going to tell you why,'" Nikki Nguyen, a relationship expert and coach, tells Romper. "And sometimes he’ll go, ‘let’s just wait,’ because he knows it’s not a good time, we’re hungry, the baby’s in the background screaming, not right now." That way, both of you know that you're even fighting in the first place and also what it's all about. Just make sure you stay calm and speak respectfully.
2. Avoiding Name-Calling
"When you're hurt, the tendency is to hurt back," Ammerman says. "Name-calling and personal attacks are about voicing your pain and inflicting pain. Once you hit that point, you're no longer trying to problem-solve or resolve an issue." Intentionally trying to hurt your partner when you're fighting with them because you're upset isn't going to help your relationship. And if you both feel as though you've been attacked, it might take some time to move past that hurt.
3. Listening Closely To What They're Saying
You probably think you're listening pretty well to what your partner says during arguments, but if the two of you are both really upset, you might not actually be hearing what they're saying as well as you think you are, which can delay the process of resolving the issue and moving forward.
"Actively listening is helpful (when people can remember to do it) because it slows down the argument to where each partner can tell how they are feeling (using 'I' statements so as not to make the other person defensive), while the other partner listens, tracks what their partner is saying and then asks questions to make sure they are understand everything correctly, and then ideally they switch who is speaking and who is actively listening," Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, a marriage and family therapist, tells Romper by email.
4. Following The Rules & Gently Calling Them Out If They Don't
Nguyen says that she thinks it's important for couples to have set rules around how they will or won't fight. Then, if either of you breaks one of those rules when you're fighting, it's important for the other to (calmly) point out that they're doing something you'd agree you wouldn't so they can rephrase, redirect, or otherwise stop what they're doing.
She also adds that it's important for you and your partner to set these rules when you're in a place of love and general happiness, not when you're having your first fight. Have a conversation about the things you do or don't appreciate when it comes to fighting when you're not actually fighting because otherwise it'll be difficult for you to hash things out and, again, hear one another.
5. Setting A Timer
"If you and your partner find yourselves on a merry-go-round issue that never seems to get resolved, agree to a set amount of time you're going to fight about that issue and set a timer," Ammerman says. "Turn the knob on the oven timer and have at it. When the timer dings, move on and save it for another day. I know that one sounds weird, but it can be effective on issues that are not time-sensitive and seem to be at an impasse. It works because it limits the amount of time you'll engage in entrenched warfare. It also communicates that the relationship is more important than the one issue and together you won't let it rob all of your time."
Maybe you'll have a breakthrough and come to some sort of resolution within that timeframe or maybe you won't, but either way, you won't let it wreck your entire relationship by becoming some sort of never-ending argument.
6. Reiterating Your Agreement
Ideally, when you and your partner fight, you'll come to some sort of agreement, compromise, or resolution at the end, right? Nguyen suggests vocalizing or reiterating what that agreement or compromise is at the end of your fight before you move on. That way, you'll be reassured that you're on the same page and no one misinterpreted what the end result of the argument actually was.
7. Diffusing The Emotion
Fights are oftentimes high-emotion affairs because you're clearly upset or feel strongly about something, but it's important to try to keep them in check, at least a little bit. "[W]hen emotions are high it’s difficult to have a rational conversation," Mirlis says. "We tend to say things we don’t mean which certainly does not help solve the problem at hand."
Ammerman suggests injecting a little silliness into your argument if the moment calls for it. "I saw an idea on a sitcom once and I love it: You can fight, but the entire dispute has to be done using operatic singing voices," she says. "It's hard to stay mad and take things very seriously when both of you are singing in fake Italian accents. This works because it might get you to laugh. It also works because it engages the creative sections of the brain, allowing each partner to see things more flexibly and see option for solutions, rather than dead ends."
8. Ending Things With Affection
While this might not work for absolutely every couple, Nguyen says that she encourages couples to end fights with some sort of affection and kindness. "I think that putting a little playfulness in at the end, reminding your partner, ‘I still love you, it’s just an argument, we’re human, we gotta figure this out together,’ is very effective," she says.
McBain notes, however, that some couples "like and need space" after arguing and that that's OK too. The best way to end an argument is the way that works best for the two of you.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.