Fair Fighting Rules for Couples Part 2 of 2

This is a list of ground rules for having a fair fight with your spouse or partner. In any fight there may be hurt feelings, but this list will help you avoid hurting each other unnecessarily. Remember, you are with this person because you love them. Treat your spouse with love, even when you are fighting.

Reminder: Physical intimidation or violence of any kind is never acceptable. This includes hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, pushing, pulling, pinching, hair pulling, slapping the phone out of their hand, backing them up against a wall, getting in their face, standing over them, throwing things, punching walls, slamming doors, or anything else of that nature. Never acceptable. Ever. Under any circumstances. For. Any. Reason.


 Some spouses like to play the


game. They try to get an unfair advantage by starting an argument at 11:30pm when they know their spouse has to be somewhere at 7:00am the next morning. Or they know their spouse is about to give a very important presentation at work so they text “We need to talk” right before the presentation is set to begin. This is passive-aggressive behavior. It is very unattractive and it is


fair fighting. If you know your spouse is in the middle of something that requires their attention (work, for example), wait until a more appropriate time. If you know your spouse is tired or not feeling well, save it.

 Place also matters. Don’t start an argument in public. You may think embarrassing your spouse by arguing in public puts you in a position of power, but in reality it just makes you look bad. Think about it—have you ever seen someone berate another in public? You probably thought, “Wow. That guy yelling over there is an asshole!” Don’t be an asshole.

Never argue in front of friends or family. Arguing in front of other people is the same as saying, “My position is so weak that I need these witnesses to back me up.” It’s an attempt to demean the other person, and it never works in the long run. Save it until the two of you are alone. Time and place matter.

If you’ve been married to or living with someone for any length of time, you know their sensitive spots; their “buttons.” Button-pushing is another passive-aggressive


and a sign of a weak argument. If you have a valid point, you don’t need to push their buttons. You love this person, remember? Pushing buttons is not something we do to someone we love.

Bringing up something that happened months or years ago is another unfair


The past belongs in the past. Sit down with your spouse and agree on a time limit for past issues; I usually recommend two weeks, but you could agree on four or even six. I wouldn’t go further back than six weeks. From that point forward, you have two weeks (or whatever you agree on) to bring up something that is bothering you. If you wait past that limit, you’re not allowed to bring it up. It’s too late, you should have mentioned it before.


 Sometimes, you just don’t want to have that conversation right now. Some people were raised to avoid conflict. A spouse may feel so demeaned (see

Shout It Out

in Part 1) that he or she clams up. Whatever the reason, retreating or refusing to engage in the conversation is known as “stonewalling.” Although it may sometimes be justified (when one spouse is shouting, for example), stonewalling does nothing to help resolve the problem. Often, the spouse who is being stonewalled gets even angrier.

 If you’re being stonewalled, ask yourself, “Why?” Are you being too emotionally or verbally intense for your spouse? Is your spouse tired or not feeling well? Does your spouse feel emotionally or physically unsafe? Be honest with yourself. If your spouse is stonewalling because of your behavior, stop it.

 If you’re the stonewaller, ask yourself, “Why?” Are you a conflict avoider? Are you too tired or unwell to have this conversation right now? Do you feel emotionally or physically unsafe? Is your spouse (realistically) creating that atmosphere or is that your own internal perception? Be honest with yourself. If you’d rather have the conversation at a later time, say so (but know that you can’t put it off forever. See

Time Out

). If you’re a conflict avoider, you’re not doing yourself any favors. A spouse who is a conflict avoider may give in for now, but his or her resentment will only build up over time. Learn to speak up.

Time Out

Despite our best intentions, sometime one or both spouses get emotionally overwhelmed and you need to take a time out. That’s OK. Go to separate rooms. Go for a walk, watch TV, or read a book. It’s better to put some space between you than to continue an argument that is going to result in nothing but hurt feelings. Simply tell your spouse, “I need a break.” Agree on a specific time to renew the discussion. It can be a few minutes, a few hours, or a couple of days, but agree on a specific time frame that you will sit down together and resolve the issue. Here are a few “don’ts” when things get heated:

  • Don’t threaten divorce. Don’t say it in the heat of the moment. This is one of the most destructive things you can say and you can’t take it back in the morning. Don’t say it unless you really, really mean it.
  • Don’t run and tell your mother, sister, father, brother, or best friend. Remember, this is a partnership. Your partner with have to be around your friends and family at parties, dinners, birthdays, graduations, weddings, holidays, etc. for many years to come. Don’t ruin your partner’s relationships with the important people in your life by airing your dirty laundry. If you need to talk, talk to a therapist.
  • Don’t threaten to call the police unless there is a real, viable threat of physical violence. Be safe, but remember it is not the police department’s job to referee your argument.
  • Don’t tell your spouse they’re crazy or threaten to invoke the Baker Act unless there is a real mental health problem. Having an angry or upset spouse doesn’t count.
  • Don’t threaten suicide just to get your spouse’s attention or sympathy. It’s childish and you could end up in a psychiatric facility.
  • Don’t threaten to kill your spouse or anyone else. You’ll end up in jail.

Resolving the Conflict

Aside from my mental health practice, I am also a Family Law Mediator. In mediation we have a saying, “If both sides are unhappy, I know I did my job.” Meaning, both spouses got something they wanted, but neither spouse got everything they wanted. Another word for this is “compromise.” That’s your goal. Marriage is a partnership, and partners work together for the good of the team. Sometimes partners have to give in for the good of the team. Sometimes partners have to sacrifice for the good of the team. That’s OK.

There will be times, hopefully only a few, that you’ll have to agree to disagree. That’s OK, too. Merely knowing that your spouse understands how you feel can often make your disagreement easier to accept.

To end on a positive note, never underestimate the power of good makeup sex. Joining together in the physical act of love brings your hearts and minds together, and smooths over the hurt feelings. It restores peace and harmony to your relationship.