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How to Fight Fair

  • Joe Beam President, Marriage Helper
  • 2013 18 Oct
How to Fight Fair

Every husband and wife fight, but that is okay. In fact, healthy conflict in marriage can strengthen a marital bond. Unhealthy conflict, on the other hand, can hurt a marriage.

When couples use sarcastic humor, criticize each other, and fail to resolve arguments in a mature and calm manner, they begin to build up a wall in between the two of them. They each hide on their respective sides of “the wall” so that the other person can no longer hurt them. This kind of conflict will destroy a marriage.

On the other hand, healthy conflict seeks to understand your spouse and resolve issues in a way that respects each other. Understand that healthy conflict does not mean perfect conflict. There will be days where you and your spouse fire the opening canons in World War III, but that does not mean you have failed.

Not only is healthy conflict achievable in every marriage, it is crucial for a lifetime of love with your spouse. These five tips teach you how to fight fair.

First: Breathe

Don’t underestimate the power of self-control.

Think of the way you feel when you start to become angry, whether it is because someone cut you off in traffic or your spouse left dirty underwear on the floor for the fifth time this week. Your blood pressure rises, you feel your muscles start to tense, and your voice amplifies. Everything in your body prepares to defend itself, and you inform your spouse of their disgusting habits with the use of choice words.

And why shouldn’t you? Since the days of Freud we have been told that repressing your emotions is harmful. Therefore, if you feel angry, you should not let it build up inside, right?


At the peak of your anger, you should take a step back and breathe. Remove yourself from the situation, physically or mentally. In the heat of the moment, you can say words or behave in ways that you will later regret. Take some time to cool down. A few hours later, assess the situation and consider the most mature way to handle the situation.

Second: Watch Your Words

Words are the most harmful of all weapons.

As mentioned in the first tip, in the heat of the moment most people speak words that they later regret. In marriages, one spouse may even threaten divorce in the middle of a fight! Once you say something, you cannot take it back. Furthermore, your spouse may always remember the hurtful words you said which may lead to damaged trust and intimacy in your relationship. A moment of fleeting satisfaction is not worth the years of pain that may follow.

Third: Repair the Damage

If both couples are in the middle of a never-ending, downward spiral fight, it will only worsen if they continue. A repair attempt needs to occur. Repair attempts are when one spouse notices damaging conflict and strives to move towards healthy conflict. Apologizing is one of the most commonly recognized repair attempts. However, creative attempts exist such as the delicate use of humor, yielding to the other’s wishes or wants, or taking a time-out from the disagreement and setting a time to come back and finish the discussion when both parties are calm.

Fourth: Compromise

When couples fight, they rarely argue about what really upsets them. Buried under the mask of conflict lies a core issue. A spouse may feel extremely disrespected in many ways, such as when financial decisions occur without their knowledge or when the majority of household chores are left to one spouse. The issue is not the money or the chores; it’s respect. During Marriage Helper’s workshop for marriages in crisis, one method we teach couples to find the core issue is to ask, “What really hurts?”

After identifying core issues, take time to compromise. One solution could be placing a hamper right next to the bed for dirty underwear, having monthly budget meetings, or assigning household chores. Preventing the sources of conflict before a fight can occur leads to a healthier and happier marriage. Be creative and compose a plan that works for you, your spouse, and your specific conflict.

Fifth: Recover

Fights can be mentally and emotionally draining. You may be sensitive in the hours or even days following intense conflict. It is important to take time to recover from the fight. Things will not automatically go back to normal, and a short readjustment period follows. Engage in calming activities. Go for a run, take a bubble bath, or do something that will clear your mind and regulate your emotions. Make sure your spouse understands that you are no longer angry, but just need some time for yourself.

Fights with your spouse are no fun, but remembering these five tips will teach both of you how to fight fair and perhaps fight less.

Joe Beam founded Marriage Helper, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples. For more information on getting help for your marriage, click here.

Publication date: October 18, 2013