How to fight fair

6 rules to follow for nicer, more productive arguments

Arguments happen when you’re in a relationship. It’s totally normal and healthy to disagree sometimes, and it’s a good sign if you both feel comfortable and safe to express yourselves. According to Dr. Rachel Needle, Psy.D., licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist, “It is the way we argue that makes all the difference.”

Of course, not all arguments or forms of expression are healthy. Things should never get physical, nor should your partner try to control you. Read more about healthy relationships here.

Even in a healthy relationship though, emotions can sometimes run high. We all have our triggers. Something sets us off, and before we know it, we’re bringing up that one time they did that thing six years ago, they’re saying “you never let anything go!” and boom, we’re off. There goes any hope of a productive conversation. So to aid you in your quest for a more adult way to argue, here are our top tips for fighting fair:

1. Avoid absolutes

Try to avoid using words like “always” and “never” when you’re having an argument. It’s so, so easy to slip into dramatic statements like “you’re always looking at your phone when I’m talking about my day,” but really, is it actually true? Are they ALWAYS looking at their phone when you’re talking about your day? Probably not. And saying that is just going to make them feel defensive, which isn’t going to get you anywhere.

2. Stay grounded in the present

If you feel it’s easy to lose control of your emotions during an argument, whether you find yourself overwhelmed with anger or anxiety, there are ways to keep at least one foot in reality. Use simple grounding techniques, like focusing on the physical feeling of whatever surface you’re sitting/laying on to stay focused on the present moment. It can help keep you from spinning out emotionally.

3. Actually listen

Actual listening doesn’t mean just leaving gaps in your monologue for the other person to talk. It also doesn’t mean secretly storing up all the good retorts you’re going to say when it’s your turn. Listening means focusing on your partner and having genuine curiosity about what they’re saying. You have to want to hear them in order to really hear them. This also means accepting what they’re saying as valid. Needle says it’s important to try not to get defensive. Instead, she says, “Use the feedback as an opportunity to take a look at yourself and to strengthen the relationship.”

4. Practice empathy

When you’re angry, this can be super hard to do, but it’s worth it. Empathy can defuse many tense situations. Once you’re really imagining the other person’s experience and feeling compassion for what they’re feeling, it’s nearly impossible to stay angry. Empathy is a great place to start from when you’re trying to build understanding.

5. Be honest about what you’re really feeling

On the surface, you may be frustrated, annoyed, or straight up mad, but underlying those feelings you’re probably hurt, sad, or scared. Though it’s definitely more vulnerable to experience and express those underlying feelings, it can help you have a more productive and more honest conversation, and it can help your partner empathize with you.

6. Use “I” statements

According to Needle, “Using “I” statements allows you to take responsibility for your feelings and make it less likely that your partner will get defensive.” So rather than saying, “You’re not listening,” you could say, “I feel hurt when I think you’re not interested in what I’m saying.”

7. Establish ground rules when you’re not upset

Does it make you feel safe and secure when your partner sits nearby when you’re arguing? Or do you need a little physical space when you’re upset? The best way to respect each other’s needs and boundaries is to establish those guidelines in advance and then stick to them, no matter how hard it is.

Happy fighting, babes!

Written by Lauren Kernan, MA

Lauren Kernan is the Director of Content and UX Strategy for Bedsider and Abortion Finder. In her spare time, she can be found sewing or starting and giving up on various other crafts.

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