Yes, Fighting In A Relationship Is Normal—Here Are 8 Expert Rules For Healthy Arguing

by | Mar 8, 2023 | Sex & Love

Relationship fights, everyone has them. But the first rule of fight club: nobody talks about fight club… and that’s a problem. Whether it’s a small squabble or a full meltdown, mastering the art of peaceful negotiation will see you (and your partner) through life’s inevitable disputes. These eight new rules from Dr. Elmari Mulder Craig, a sexologist and relationship expert, will ensure you always fight fair.

Rule #1: Plan To Fight

Seeing that peanut butter-covered knife lying precariously on the now peanut butter-smeared counter might send you into a blind rage. But rushing into a discussion, while you’re upset or angry is the worst thing you could do. 

First, Calm Down

Rather take the time to calm down and reflect on what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Too often a fight is cause by a minor frustration or something you see in an entirely different light when you’ re no longer upset. How many times have you had a fight only to not even remember the reason the next day, but still vividly recall the fight itself? Our guess is more often than you’d care to admit. 

We’re not saying you should sweep everything under the rug. In fact, experts say married couples who don’t have any conflict are often the ones who end up divorced. That’s because they don’t even care to fight. Conflict can bring you closer. A 2012 paper by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that while expressing anger to a partner caused short-term discomfort, it also led to honest conversations that benefited the relationship long-term.

Second, Schedule Fight Club 

Instead of charging forth, peanut butter-smeared knife in hand, dust off that 2023 planner you doomed to the drawer. Then say: “There is something that is important to me that I would like to discuss with you, would you set aside a few minutes for me on Saturday morning after breakfast?” 

Third, Remember 3 Basic Principles

  1. Make sure the appointment is within 24 to 48 hours of you requesting it.
  2. While you wait, don’t sulk or punish your partner in any other way.
  3. The conversations shouldn’t last longer than 10 to 20 minutes. If it does, you’re doing something wrong and should reschedule for another time, advises Mulder Craig.

READ MORE: The 6 Dating Trends You Need to Know 

Rule #2: Build An Appreciation Sandwich

One of the reasons you should think before your “fight club” appointment is that you should remind yourself of all the good things in your relationship. It also gives you the chance to think about how much this issue matters to you. A University of Waterloo study found that when people focused on thoughts about their relationship a year into the future, they demonstrated more forgiveness. 

Think Before You Fight

Taking some time to think means you can open the conversation with words of love and appreciation which creates the kind of atmosphere where your partner doesn’t feel unfairly attacked and will be able to really hear what you have to say. 

Always End The Fight With A Compliment

Next, speak about what is bother­ing you, and after that try to end the conversations with some praise or recognition. Try: “Thank you for listening to me. I want to tell you again how much I appreciate all the wonderful things you already do for me especially [name at least one specific example so that your partner knows you do notice]”. 

Most people don’t realise the impact that a small compliment can have. A study from the University of North Carolina found that people who feel appreciated by one another have a better bond in the bedroom. The study showed that expressing gratitude in the form of compliments or treats boosted intimate relations. 

Beginning and ending a con­versation with love, praise and recognition is called an appreciation sandwich. So, forget the peanut butter sandwich that sent you over the edge in the first place and think about this one. 

Rule #3: Stick To The Script

Limit the conversation to only one issue and stick to that one issue until it’s resolved. If an issue is small enough, it can be handled. That 20-page letter listing all your partner’s flaws is not going to help. Seriously, just burn it.

Hopping from one problem to the next in order to prove just how much you give and how little you get back in return or how wronged you are will only overwhelm your partner. We can only deal with one issue at a time. One sure way to a heated argument is if the listener is responding with “Yes, but what about my needs…”, or “I will do that if you…” or “I only do that because you…”.

Aim For A Peaceful Resolution

Your health actually depends on a peaceful resolution. In 2016, researchers found that couples who had rage-fueled fights were more likely to experience spikes in blood pressure and cardiovascular problems in the future.

This rule is the one that people have the most difficulty with. They always say, “But when do I get to state my side of the case?”, or, “Can’t I just explain how I see it?”, or, “When do I get a chance to say what I need?” The point is that your partner feels heard and understood which means that they, in turn, will be more willing to listen to you.

Make A Follow-Up Appointment

You need to wait your turn; make a subsequent appointment. However, don’t abuse the next appointment by using it to continue the argument or state your side of the issue. Wait a week or two, do what your partner requested of you and then see if you still need to say a few things just to prove you were right and they were wrong.

READ MORE: 20 Questions With a Body Language Expert on How to Tell if Someone Is Into You

Rule #4: Be Direct, Simple And Neutral

When you announce the issue you want to discuss, do so as directly and as simply as you can. Say exactly what you mean. There are of course things you should avoid doing, too. Don’t accuse or character assassinate your partner—you don’t want to be a verbal hit man. Example: avoid saying “You’re selfish/lazy/inconsiderate/irresponsible/cold.”

If it’s about washing the dishes, taking out the trash or fetching the kids at school, say it. Don’t make a long story about the good ol’ “facts” of the matter. This may spark an argument because your partner might counter with “that’s not true’.

The fact of the matter is, this isn’t Boston Legal and you’re not going to win this one, no matter how many episodes have convinced you otherwise.

Lastly, don’t exaggerate, dramatise or generalise. Avoid words like “always” or “never”. Don’t say: “We never have sex anymore,” or, “You come home late every night’ if it’s literally not true.

Rule #5 and #6: You’re Not A Mind Reader (Focus On Your Feelings)

These two rules go hand in hand. After you’ve announced the topic, tell your partner how you feel about the issue at hand. Don’t tell them how you think they feel or think. This applies to the classic “you don’t care about my feelings.”

The trick is to express your feelings in such a way that you don’t attack or accuse your partner. Rather than saying “You hurt me”, say, “I feel sad when you… ” You need to learn to use emotionally non-violent language which means not using words that imply an accusation.

Take Responsibility For Your Feelings

Don’t use words that make you a victim because that makes your partner responsible for your feelings and as an adult you always need to assume responsibility for your own feelings. So, avoid sentences like, “You make me angry”, or, “You don’t make me feel attractive.” 

Also, avoid words like angry or irritated. Anger is a cover-up for a primary emotion like fear or sadness. This is especially true for men as it’s been shown that anger is often the only emotion that is socially acceptable for men to show. Focus on getting in touch with the real feeling underneath the anger or the resentment before you make your “fight club” appointment. 

The key is to try to communicate your feelings in a way that your partner is able to empathise with you, but don’t play the martyr. 

Rule #7: Listen!

The first six rules apply to the one who has the problem (the speaker), but now comes the difficult part for the one who needs to receive the message. 

It’s easy to be a good listener when the accused in the case isn’t you. If you are at the receiving end of “fight club”, you need to breathe deeply, relax and really hear your partner

Research from the University of California-Berkeley, found that if you shut down emotionally during conflict by hardly saying anything or avoiding eye contact, you are more likely to develop a stiff neck, backache and overall muscle tension. 

However, don’t defend, explain, justify or minimise (or launch a counter attack). Any attempt to state your side of the story wiil only result in the speaker feeling unheard and invalidated. This is when they will stack up more “facts” to prove their case, exaggerate, get frustrated, shout, cry, swear, storm out—you name it. And the original issue will escalate. 

Hear, Understand, Communicate

If you don’t listen, you are only confirming what they’re trying to say to you in the first place. It’s about learning not to invalidate your partner’s feelings. You don’t have to agree with the “fact” of the situation to understand their feelings. Hearing and understanding are the first parts of listening, the second part is to communicate that you understand because it’s no use understanding if your partner doesn’t feel and experience your understanding. 

Use the technique of mirroring your partner’s feelings: repeat what you heard your partner say, using your own words. You could even elaborate little on what you heard to help them feel fully understood and validated. Carry on mirroring until your partner indicates that they feel satisfied you have fully received the message. 

Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions, which may change, and relax. As a listener that means you’ve done your part and can move onto the next step. 

READ MORE: 10 Annoying Things You Do During Sex

Rule #8: Concentrate On Solutions

There is another reason the speaker needs to prepare—if you don’t think about it beforehand, it’s impossible to formulate fair and realistic behaviour change requests. Avoid negative, vague, impossible or unrealistic requests. (Having sex five times a day probably isn’t going to happen.) Think carefully about your requests prior to your fight club session and what really makes a difference to you. Remember these are requests, not demands and it could be a good idea to present your partner with a list of solutions to your problem they can choose from.

Remember The Ball Is In Your Court

If you’re the listener, you’re free to grant your partner’s requests or not and you don’t need to provide reasons for the requests that you refuse, it’s important to not only listen carefully but creatively, too, meaning you get the drift of what they are requesting so that you can think of other things you might be able to do. Even if you aren’t fully satisfied, say thank you and hug it out. A study in PLOS found that hugs can help you cope with conflict.

Keep It Clean

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that a certain argument style is an indicator of potential relationship troubles down the road. If one partner is trying to come up with solutions while the other withdraws or leaves the fight altogether, this can lead to the argument going unresolved and feelings of lingering anger and dissatisfaction.

The whole point of having a “fight club” appointment is to reach a resolution without it ending in a shouting match. Ultimately just like the movie, you’re really only hurting yourself if you’re trying to hurt your partner. Welcome to Fight Club.

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