9 Rules for Fighting Fair in Marriage


Conflict is inevitable in a marriage. Every couple has disagreements! 

Conflict can be healthy for couples when they know how to complain without criticizing. Criticism is attacking someone’s personality rather than his or her behavior. Criticism entails blaming or making a personal attack or an accusation, while a complaint is a negative comment about something you wish were different. Complaints usually begin with the word I, and criticisms usually begin with the word you.

Nothing good can come from criticizing your spouse. 

In fact, only two results can occur from long-term criticism. Either you will turn your spouse into someone you hate or turn him or her into someone who hates you. Practice complaining without criticizing. Try following these rules to fight fair in your relationship.

9 Rules for Fighting Fair

Rule #1: Choose Your Battles Carefully

You can’t complain about everything. Ninety percent of issues couples fight over can probably be overlooked. Too much complaining from a spouse feels like nagging. Before you complain about something, ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Rule #2: Practice Assertiveness and Active Listening

No one can read your mind. You have to say what you mean and understand what you hear. Let the one who has the complaint speak to express feelings and ask for what they want in the relationship.  When one speaks, the other should be listening—really listening, not just planning their rebuttal.

Make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent. You then let your partner know you understand them by restating their message. Once the complaint is given and the listener can restate the complaint, spend time discussing possible solutions.

In order to do this effectively you must:

1.   Pay Attention – Eliminate distractions and focus on the speaker

2.   Show That You're Listening – Body language

3.   Provide Feedback – Tell your partner what you are hearing them say. Restate the message. “I hear you saying. . ."

4.   Defer Judgment - Do not get defensive or interrupt with counter arguments

5.   Respond Appropriately – Do not get upset, angry, or display negative emotion

Rule #3: Discuss Issues at the Appropriate Time

It is impossible to have a rational discussion in a climate of hostility and disrespect. Don’t try to resolve issues in the heat of the moment.  Also, avoid times when either of your are tired, hungry, or under stress.  Think of the appropriate time and place to have a constructive conversation.  


Rule #4: No Blaming

It’s pointless to blame each other. Blaming your spouse distracts you from solving the problem at hand. It invites your spouse to be defensive and it escalates the argument. Blaming each other will not accomplish anything. It won't help either of you feel any better. It won't strengthen your relationship at all. And it won't help you find a solution to the problem. In situations like this, make a conscious decision that your relationship is too important to undermine it with blame and judgment. Focus on keeping your goodwill for each other intact and finding solutions to the problem instead of blaming.

Rule #5: Stay in the Present

Stay in the present and resist the temptation to use the situation as an occasion to bring up other issues from the past. It’s discouraging to keep bringing up the past. You can’t change the past. You can only change today. You can look forward to a better future. Try to keep your focus on what can be done today to resolve the issue at hand and go forward from there. Don’t pile on issues.  Stick to one issue at a time.   If you get off-topic, on to other issues, stop yourselves and agree to get back on track. You can always come back to other issues later.

If you do find yourself bringing up issues from the past it is likely because those issues were never resolved in the first place. Things may have happened that you and your spouse never really talked about. Or you may have tried to talk about it in the past but without fighting fair. This rule will be easier to follow, going forward, if you both make a commitment to discuss issues as they happen rather than letting them fester.

Rule #6: No Yelling

Yelling only escalates things. Chances are nothing will get resolved when your emotions are running so high. If you’re mad and feel like yelling, then it’s time to step away and cool down.

Your spouse's experience is the one that counts here, however. If it feels like yelling to your spouse, then you are at least raising your voice, if not yelling. Make a conscious effort to lower your voice. The meaning of your communication lies in how your message is actually landing with others. If you can’t tone it down because you are too upset, then it is probably best to take a time-out.


Rule #7: No Degrading Language

Avoid name-calling, insults, put-downs or swearing. Putting your partner down or criticizing your partner’s character shows disrespect for his or her dignity.

Rule #8: No Use of Force

Using physical force or threatening to use force (i.e. a raised fist or a verbal threat) in any way is unacceptable. Develop the self-discipline to set limits on your anger and your behavior before you reach this level. Use of force includes pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, punching, slapping or restraining. It includes punching a hole in a wall, throwing things or breaking something in anger. Acting out your anger in these ways violates the other person’s boundaries and sense of safety. Each of us has a right to be safe and free of abuse or physical danger in our relationships.

Rule #9: No Talk of Divorce

In the heat of an argument, threatening to leave the relationship is manipulative and hurtful. It creates anxiety about being abandoned and undermines your ability to resolve your issues. It quickly erodes your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship. Trust is not easily restored once it is broken in this way. It makes the problems in your relationship seem much bigger than they need to be.

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