Stay together long enough and you and your partner are bound to have a tiff or two. Most of the time, you’ll apologize, kiss and make up. But what happens when those little skirmishes become an all out war of words? Once you’ve said ugly things, they are forever a part of your relationship. Maybe you really didn’t mean them but the hurt they caused will remain long after apologies are made. Over time, those words and deeds become relationship killers. Our Atlanta couples therapists work with people experiencing the tough job of working with difficult conflict in their relationships.

Just saying, “we won’t fight” is a lofty goal but not realistic. Couples disagree from time to time and that’s ok. Disagreeing can be a part of growth as you work to solve problems together. But how do you have a fight without hurting each other?   You learn the art of fighting fair.

1. Stay Calm

If you do nothing else, do this. Staying calm allows you to think about what you need to say or do and will also encourage your partner to remain calm. When we’re angry, it’s tempting to talk over or speak loudly to be “heard”.  But the reality is, yelling doesn’t mean someone hears you. In fact, yelling, posturing, or glaring at someone is perceived as aggression. When people feel threatened, their defenses go up and the battle is on.  Your partner is more likely to be willing to talk if you remain calm. 

2. Be Respectful – Even When It’s Hard

Being respectful sends the signal to your partner that even though you may be angry, you still love and respect them. Being respectful means avoiding the name calling, sniping, and sideways remarks that can cut so deep and remain between you long after the fight is over. Instead of making demands or issuing ultimatums, offer solutions or offer to discuss.

3. Avoid the Blame Game

Instead of criticizing, keep the focus on what it is you want or need your partner to know. A great tool for doing that is using “I statements” to express how you feel.  Use words that express how you feel and what is important to you. This helps your partner understand what you want and need without minimizing their feelings.

4. Call A Time Out!

Time outs are not just for kids. Sometimes, taking a break can help you both to gather your thoughts and get your feelings in check. Take the dog for a walk, get some fresh air, or even step into another room for a few moments.Our Atlanta couples counselors like to encourage people to say when they’ll come back after they take a break, then set an alarm, and actually come back so their spouse isn’t feeling cut off or like their voice is being silenced.

The goal is to step away from the conflict and cool off BEFORE either of you say something you don’t mean and can’t take back. After your time out, come back and try again. This is the key: your partner needs to trust that you will come back and resolve the problem. Otherwise, the problem remains unresolved and WILL come back again.

5. Leave the Past Alone

This is the place in the fight where you often hear (or say) “you always” or “you never”. And, for the record, neither is 100% accurate. When you’re focused on past issues, you’re not addressing the problem in front of you. Focus on the issue at hand. If you have other issues to address, make time to work on those…just not in this moment.

6. Find Common Ground

Relationship conflicts are not a “win or lose”. Your relationship is not a game. The goal is to find a resolution you can each live with…give a little, get a little.

Instead of giving up, giving in, or just calling a truce, seek a true resolution. When you find a true resolution means that you’ve shared your feelings, forgiven, apologized and found a solution that will keep the battle from being fought over and over.

7. Keep Your Relationship Private

Fight the urge to vent to others! That includes family, friends, social media. You won’t get what you need and you’re setting your partner up for a battle he/she can’t win. You may be willing to forgive your partner but your family and friends may not.

At the end of the day, remember that regardless of the issue, you’re fighting for your relationship.