23. Fighting Fairly


The following are suggestions regarding the language of assertiveness.

In this writing, we have made three major assumptions:

  • Disagreement and conflict are inevitable in intimate relationships.
  • Styles of expressing anger are learned and therefore can be changed.
  • Angry feelings depend on one’s perception of the situation.

Therefore, developing self-knowledge, listening , and communicating skills are the keys to fighting fairly.

Generally, we think of “flights” as angry confrontations between two or more people where tempers flare, voices are raised, and insults are exchanged. This way of resolving conflict, while unfortunately common, unusually results in bitterness, distrust, and desire for revenge. The issues may be temporarily settled, but on or both partners feel resentful, angry or hurt. Both partners experience a loss of intimacy.

Clean, fair “fights”, on the other hand, are confrontations in which disagreements and grievances are dealt with according to a specific set of guidelines. Applying these principles, alone with the skills of active listening and a collaborative attitude allows differences to be negotiated.

Both partners will be more likely to feel refreshed, resolved, and relieved that important issues have been dealt with. Successful fights tends to clear up problems and increase intimacy by helping each partner understand the other better.

The following guidelines highlight some of the major fair and unfair fighting techniques couples use with each other. Remember, what you need to decide is not “Should I express my anger?” or even “How should I express my anger?” but “How can I communicate to my partner about this issues so that s/he will do something about it?”.

Be Prepared

  • Deal with small but significant issues when they happen.
  • Be able to let go of anger generated by trivial issues.
  • Pick a good time. Deal with big issues as soon as possible, preferably when you’re both prepared to deal with them. Make and keep an appointment to flight if necessary.
  • Know what you’re fighting about. Be specific, limited and direct with your complaint. Bring up one thing at a time.


  • Avoiding or ignoring an issue your partner feels is important
  • Giving “the silent treatment”
  • Going home to mother
  • Bring up issue at time embarrassing to partner
  • Gunny sacking – saving up little hurts and hostilities then dumping them on your partner all at once.


  • Report your anger appropriately using “I” statements (“I am furious about…”);
  • Be specific and concise.
  • Say what you really mean
  • Stay in the present; use current examples.
  • Deal with partner’s behavior, not his/her personality.


  • Generalizing – “You never…” or “I am always…”
  • Labeling, name calling, character assassination – “You bastard”
  • Mind reading – telling partner what s/he is thinking and feeling
  • Dwelling on past grievances
  • Accusations, blaming your partner for your problem
  • Hitting below the belt, purposely calling attention to known weaknesses or areas of sensitivity
  • Exaggerating – overreacting to a situation or making idle threats or ultimatums


  • Count to 10, or more if you’re really  attacked. At least at first, try not to take your partner’s anger personally.
  • Let your first response to a grievance be an attempt to understand your partner’s perceptions, values and feelings – “May be she’s had a rough day”
  • Be an active listener – express back to your partner what you understand his/her thoughts and feelings are
  • Be sensitive. Avoid fighting back when you partner is just letting off steam.
  • Check out feelings and thoughts you think your partner has if you think you know but they aren’t saying.
  • If you’re wrong, admit it!
  • Cross-complaining; responding to partner’s initial complaint with one of your own
  • Ignoring partner
  • Belittling partner or issues
  • Assuming partner should  know what you are thinking or feeling when you haven’t said anything
  • Sulking

Negotiating – Win/Win

  • After you understand how your partner is feeling, try to find out what it is your partner is really interested in obtaining by making the complaint or grievance or by not responding to you
  • Express your interest in coming to a solution which is satisfactory to you both… a position in which you can both “win”.
  • Discuss each other’s perceptions. How is it that your partner sees things so differently from you!
  • Try to find a number of ways you can both get something of what you want. Consider as many options as possible from all sides of the issue.
  • Keep to the subject. Try to resolve one issues before moving to another.


  • Presenting non-negotiable demands
  • Thinking your partner must lose if you are to win (and vice versa)
  • Ignoring your partner’s strong expression of emotions.


  • Having physical safety values for excess emotion (Jogging, biking, listening to music etc.)
  • Call a foul when you feel a guideline has been broken
  • Be ready to forgive.
  • If the fight isn’t resolved right ow, make an appointment to finish it later. Allow for interim solutions.
  • If the fight is resolved, try to finish with an expression of positive feelings that you’ve worked together successfully.


  • Pretending to go alone, or to agree when you really don’t
  • Withholding affections, breaking previous agreements
  • Continuing with repetitious, stale arguments with no process being made toward resolution