Fighting fair, you can’t lose

By Norman Araiza

It’s inevitable that all relationships experience conflict and disagreements, which in the best of couples can lead to fighting. Fighting isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s how it ends that makes the difference. Research shows when fighting is fair, couples usually feel closer afterwards than they did before the fight. It isn’t so important the reason for the fight, unless it’s a continuing theme that occurs repeatedly. What is important is how couples make up and how quickly they let go of the issue and move on.

Fighting is a natural but learned process. So, if partners fight the way that seems natural, they will probably fight the same way their parents fought, which may or may not be healthy. The following are guidelines that may lead to more constructive outcomes.

1. The goal to all fights should be gaining insights into what our partners find offensive or disagreeable. The attitude one brings into the argument makes all the difference in its outcome. If you feel the need to win, your partner has to lose. If we can express accurately our partner’s feelings as well as the issue or behavior that brought about the feeling, than agreement may not be possible. We may not be able to agree with our partner every time, but agreeing to disagree may be the healthiest attitude. At least an understanding of their position is gained. The important question is, can we live with it? We may not like it but we may be able to live with it.

2. Schedule your fight times. Fighting when the issue arises is rarely a good time. Fighting in front of others adds a complication and “saving face” may enter an already tense situation. Agreeing on a time and place encourages preparation and reduces judgments and comments spurred by anger. I think inside a parked car with no intention of going anywhere is a good place for a fight. No interruptions, no phones or other distractions i.e. TV, children, etc.

3. Avoid character assassination. Keep in mind there is a difference between what we do and who we are. Talk about the behavior, not the person. Stay away from absolutes, i.e. always, never.

4. Have a goal in mind. Know what you are trying to achieve by the fight. If it’s an agreement to not do a particular behavior ask for it. Be clear about your expectations. Unmet expectations should not be an issue unless the expectation is agreed upon beforehand. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know when to end the fight.

5. When wrong, admit it. We never look better than when we are sincerely repentant. Ultimately a fair fight is dependent on cooperation of both parties. It doesn’t work if one person fights fairly and the other fights dirty.

Finally, when you find yourself embroiled in a conflict or just a disharmonious time between you and your partner, ask yourself how have I gotten myself into this situation? What did I do? What did I say? What is my responsibility in bringing this about? These are not rhetorical questions but the only relevant questions from which to grow and not continue the same mistakes. Contrary to what most people think when in a conflict we only have ourselves to change to make things better. Intellectually we may know we can’t change our partner but emotionally we want our partner to be the one to change. Learning to fight fairly means taking responsibility and changing the way we handle our problems. Thankfully, the solution lies with us.

Norman Araiza M.A. is an American-trained psychotherapist enjoying a limited practice in San Miguel. He’s available for consultation at 152-7842, email:


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