People aren’t usually dying to get into a fight with their significant others. I mean, let’s face it. Fights suck. Who wants to be arguing and crying when you could instead be out on a date night or, like, having sex? That being said, a well-executed fight can be the best thing to happen to your relationship. Why? Well, if done correctly, a fight proves that the two of you had a problem, and instead of picking up and leaving, you decided to stick around and work it out. And the best part of all? Through this fight, you managed to make your relationship stronger than it was before.
Every couple deserves the chance to make their relationship stronger by trying to have a game-changing fight like this before they decide to pick up and leave. So to help you guys out before your next big fight, a few relationship experts chimed in with their best tips for having a healthy fight with your partner. Read along, and more importantly, take note.
Know What You Want
Behavior and relationship expert Patrick Wanis believes there is a “is a major misconception that the amount of arguments a couple has reflects the quality, health or longevity of the relationship.”
“The way a couple argues and resolves conflict is much more important than how often they have arguments and conflict; just one major blow-up handled incorrectly can end the relationship forever!” he says.
In order to have a “healthy” fight, Wanis recommends thinking about these questions whenever you feel an argument beginning to form:
What do you want to achieve from the discussion/argument?
Do you want to express yourself, i.e., vent?
Do you want to understand your partner’s motivations?
Do you want to change their behavior?
Do you want empathy, compassion, or an apology?
According to Wanis, it’s about finding a purpose, even if it’s in the heat of the moment. Fighting with a meaning behind it means that you won’t just spew out random nonsense with no real end to your tangent.
According to Laura Froyen, a relationship expert and coach, how your fight kicks off is more important than you might think. If it’s immediately guns blazing, you’ll get nowhere. If you want things to be healthy and civilized, start off reassuring your partner, all while sharing your point of view.
“Research shows that 96 percent of the time, we can predict how a conflict will go based solely on the way it starts,” she says. “Starting softly, with calm, connecting language that emphasizes your perspective and feelings is absolutely key for having a healthy conflict with your partner or anyone really!”
“If you don’t start softly, you can trigger defensiveness, and the conversation often deteriorates from there,” she explains. “An important part of a soft startup is being neutral and non-judgmental, and leaving any criticism and contempt completely out of the conversation.”
Make Sure You’re in the Right Headspace
Just because you feel like fighting doesn’t mean you necessarily should. If there’s steam coming out of your ears, wait until those emotions settle a bit before having a discussion.
“If you or your partner are highly heated or angry, the intense emotions will hijack the conversation and you will lose impulse control,” warns Wanis. “Wait until you both have cooled off sufficiently to discuss the problem without losing control. I always suggest that unless it is time sensitive, wait 24 hours for intense emotions to lessen.”
Rachel Perlstein, dating coach and co-founder of A Good First Date says it’s best “to build self-awareness and recognize when you are triggered before you get to the point of escalation.”
“This can take some work and reflection, but take time to identify your first sign of anger (how your body feels, the thoughts you experience), and make a plan to step away and cool down when you experience this initial feeling/thought,” she says. “A plan is important. If your partner is better at stepping away, ask them to leave/take a break when they notice the signs you’ve identified or create a code word that signals for them you need a break.”
Recognize when your partner needs a break and give them that space. If it takes more than 24 hours, so be it. Sometimes, the cooldown post-fight will allow the dust to settle and for everyone to think more clearly.
Pick the Right Place to Duke It Out
If you’re thinking the best place to fight is in the comfort of your own home (or somewhere like a crowded restaurant, bar, or your place of work), think again. That’ll only make you think about your argument every single time you go to these places.
“It is best to have the discussion in an open, neutral space such as a park, garden or lake,” suggests Wanis. “Otherwise, if the conversation becomes heated or intense, you do not want to anchor or associate those intense emotions in your spaces where you usually eat, relax, laugh, bond together, or make love!”
If you do opt for a public setting, just be aware of your surroundings. Being outside should only reinforce the idea of being civil, as raised voices and flailing hands can draw some unwanted attention.
Actually, Listen to Each Other
Remember to take a breath. Although you probably have plenty to get off your chest, odds are your partner does, too.
“Sometimes people don’t really listen because they are so eager to get out what they want to say next,” says relationship coach Shalanda Tookes Wilder. “Take turns speaking, validate by saying what you think the other person means, and ask questions. Taking turns speaking and validating what has been said makes everyone listen. Asking questions allows for clarification. Tone is also important in this part of the process. A pleasant, understanding tone goes a long way and can help heal the hurt.”
As cheesy as it may sound, just remember how you’d want to be spoken to. Proceed with a light tone, avoiding a rise in your voice that’ll only put your partner on the defensive. You love this person after all, right? Also, be sure not to step on their toes during the conversation.
“In order to tone down, figure out what works best for you,” says Perlstein. “Take deep breaths (in through your nose, out through your mouth), go in a different room, or go for a walk outside to calm down. Give yourself enough time and re-engage when you’re truly calm. If you can’t tolerate finishing the conversation, schedule a time to talk further once both parties have had the opportunity to cool down further.”
Don’t Hit Below the Belt
This may depend on how heated you are, but regardless, don’t say something you’ll end up regretting when all’s said and done.
“It is highly tempting to attack your partner when he/she has hurt you and you want them to feel and understand your pain,” says Wanis. “However, unless your only intention is revenge and you don’t care if you irrevocably destroy the relationship, don’t verbally attack, insult, condemn, or ridicule your partner. Instead, refer to the action and behavior of your partner which created this obstacle and problem.”
Keep the Conversation in the Present
According to Wilder, bringing up anything that doesn’t relate to the reason you’re fighting will only make matters worse.
“The consequence will be added resentment, and too much resentment will break a relationship,” he warns. “If a past hurt is causing resentment, bring it up for discussion after the current disagreement is resolved. Couples who are able to let go of the past and have constructive discussions have healthier relationships when they learn to fight fair.”
Make Sure You’re Talking IRL
Phones are meant for texting your partner, not fighting with them. If you have words to say, make sure you’re actually in front of them, not using technology as a barrier.
“Even if it feels uncomfortable, step beyond your fear and have the discussion in person,” recommends Wanis. “Beware of giving in to your fear or intense emotions – do not send texts, emails or voice messages; if you actually care about your relationship, then talk to your partner in person!”
When It’s Over, Let It Stay That Way
You’ve duked it out, you’ve had a quality hug (or great sex), and now, it’s time to leave the fight in the past where it belongs.
“If you came to a compromise, honor your part of it and don’t continue to bring it up or mention it casually. If you two have worked through it, let it go,” says Perlstein. “This will build emotional safety between you as well as build trust in your capability as a couple to grow through resolving the conflict.”
If you find it difficult to keep things civilized, you may need to ask yourself why things aren’t working out as you hoped they would.
“Is this something that is related to you and your past (we often model the way we watched our caregivers and those around us handle conflict)? Is it something you’ve taken steps to deal with? Is difficulty managing anger or conflict happening in other dynamics and environments besides with your partner? Are you getting violent or abusive when you are angry?” asks Perlstein. “If yes, it’s important for you to seek support from a therapist individually to work on this to develop ways to manage your anger/conflict in your life.”
She considers couples therapy to be “a great way to work on communication, improve the way you and your partner approach and manage conflict, and ways to repair the relationship afterward.”
“Couples therapy really facilitates resolution, understanding, and can help with communication so you and your partner develop the awareness and skills to fight healthy,” adds Perlstein.
Remember, arguments are an essential part of growing relationships. Just make sure they don’t bring out your dark side.
Now, take this advice, go forth, and fight fairly.