Couples Conflict: Fighting Fair for a Positive Outcome

Healthy conflict preserves love and respect for your partner.

When fighting fair, it is important to deal with hurt, pain and frustration in that moment. Try not to bring up anything from the past.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Ben Fienup, tLMHC

Couples conflict is normal. In every marriage or relationship, there will be conflicts of some kind. In many situations, this conflict leads to arguments, disagreements and sometimes to verbal fighting. If there is no closure, compromise, or change, these fights can add up and take a toll on the relationship. In fact, according to research done by John Gottman, 69% of conflict in marriages stems from past unresolved conflict. Although conflict in any relationship is normal, it doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your marriage or relationship. There are ways to fight fairly so there can be a positive outcome.

Use “I” language instead of “you” language

When there is conflict, it can be very easy to point out all the ways that your spouse or partner is letting you down. Similarly, it can be easy to blame and point your fingers at someone else. These are examples of situations where “you” language is being used. When that happens, it creates defensiveness that escalates conflict. However, using “I” language helps to deescalate situations. So, what exactly does it look like to use “I” language?

An easy way to do this is to build an “I” statement. An “I” statement focuses on an emotion. For example, “I feel sad”. It doesn’t stop there. After identifying the emotion you are feeling, you can express the situation that impacted that emotion. “I feel sad when you don’t ask me before you make plans with your friends.” Finally, you want to make a suggestion of how this conflict can be avoided. “I feel sad when you don’t ask me before you make plans with your friends. In the future can we talk before we make plans with other people? When using “I” statements and “I” language, it is important to focus on yourself and not your spouse or partner when describing the conflict and focusing on how you both will work toward the solution.

To learn more about communicating with “I” statements, download our I-Statements Worksheet.

Listen carefully to the other person

The second principle in fighting fair is listening carefully to the other person. There are a few helpful tips to listening well. First, try to maintain eye contact when possible. This is the first way to show that you are a listening. Along with this, shut off any distractions such as the TV or radio and put your phone away. Second, when your partner is talking actually listen to what they are saying instead of coming up with a response in your head. A good way to do that is repeat back what you hear your partner saying (“What I hear you saying is…”). Finally, wait your turn to talk. Do not try and talk over or interrupt your partner. It is okay to take a second to think of how you want to respond before you begin talking.

No “cheap shots” or “low blows”

In marriages and relationships, oftentimes you know what to say to hurt your spouse or partner and vice versa. When fighting fair, you do not go to that place. Additionally, never use physical violence or intimidation in any situation. Healthy couples conflict preserves love and respect for your partner.

Keep to the here and now

In the midst of a disagreement or couples conflict, everything can seem overwhelming. This is especially true when someone has been holding onto weeks, months or years of hurt that they want to express all at once. When fighting fair, it is important to bring things up in the moment and deal with hurt, pain and frustration in the moment. Try not to bring up anything from the past. It is more important to deal with the feelings and emotions that are being experienced right now. Try to work through one issue at a time and come to a compromise or resolution before moving on.

Couples conflict can lead to pain, hurt, and resentment – but it can also lead to growth, change, and increased love and respect within the relationship. By using the fighting fair principles, couples can convert an uncomfortable and difficult situation into an opportunity for progress in the relationship. Even when you and your partner both know these rules, it can still be hard to live them out. Marriage or couples therapy can provide a safe space to practice these principles, get feedback, and then apply them to your everyday life.

Give us a call at 319-200-5104 if you are interested in learning more about couples therapy.

Ben Fienup, tLMHC
Ben Fienup, tLMHC
Ben Fienup, tLMHC became a therapist after he was able to witness the benefits of therapy in those around him. He knew instantly that he wanted to help make a difference and promote positive change. Additionally, as a foster parent he is passionate about helping teens and adolescents with a variety of mental health challenges.
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Ben Fienup, tLMHC
Ben Fienup, tLMHC
Ben Fienup, tLMHC became a therapist after he was able to witness the benefits of therapy in those around him. He knew instantly that he wanted to help make a difference and promote positive change. Additionally, as a foster parent he is passionate about helping teens and adolescents with a variety of mental health challenges.
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