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Eight ground rules for fighting fair

November 2, 2011

One of the things I’ve learned from your survey responses so far is that you enjoy, and want to hear more of, the relationship stuff. I’m glad because it’s important to me too. I really believe that focusing your engagement solely on planning the wedding misses an important, and necessary, opportunity to prepare for the marriage. But I also believe that you should always, no matter your status, seek to grow, learn, and improve your relationship. I’m sure you all agree with me there!

So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to single out one day a week to talk shop on relationships. I’ll be using {and have been for my previous posts} my background in Marriage & Family Therapy and will pull from the many books I have on the subject. Each week will be a good review for me–and I hope you’ll learn something as well!


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why conflict isn’t always bad–how it forces you to address your issues and eventually {if done right} leads to resolution. I thought I’d continue on the topic of conflict with a series on Fighting Fair. What does it mean to do it right? What are some good ground rules to follow when an argument arises? What should I be aware of in those heated moments? Today we’ll start with an overview of eight ground rules. For the following weeks, we’ll spend time digging into each one. Sound good? OK!

A disclaimer before we begin: All of these guidelines are, without a doubt, useful to know and hold on to. But they do not always work. There are a variety of reasons why they fail but I think all those reasons can be summed up in one statement: We’re imperfect human beings. We’re not always going to get it right. The important thing is that you continue TRYING.

Eight Ground Rules for Fighting Fair

1. Soften your start-up

How an argument begins is most  likely how it will end.

2. Use “I” statements

Own your position in the conflict & avoid blaming statements.

3. Express your feelings

Go beyond the details of the situation & discuss how you’re feeling–dig a little deeper.

4. Talk about your partner’s behavior rather than his/her personality characteristics

Attack the situation that caused the argument, not your partner.

5. Focus on only one problem at a time

Avoid “throwing in the kitchen sink.”

6. When conflict escalates, call a Time Out

No, this doesn’t mean that you also initiate nap time. It means that you take a break when you reach a point where constructive communication is no longer possible.

7. Distinguish between problem discussion & problem solution

Hone in on whether you need to define what’s going on versus find a solution to an already established problem.

8. Repair

After an argument, learn what enables you as a couple to reconnect. Practice it!

Which of these eight guidelines do you think are the hardest to follow? When learning about rules for relationships, I always think it’s best to think through why they don’t work {which we will definitely do as we unpack each of these in the coming weeks}. But I’m curious to know what your initial thoughts are! Share, discuss, respond!

I officially sound like a teacher, don’t I? Maybe I missed my calling…


7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2011 2:37 pm

    Number five is hardest for me. I have trouble letting go of past hurts, especially when I just let the incident slide by. Then if another similar thing comes up and we’re discussing it, I bring up the past incident. The thing is, it’s relevant to the issue at hand, and serves to illustrate that what’s upsetting me hasn’t just happened once. The problem with this is that my husband has usually forgotten that the first thing happened at all so he can’t explain it or soften the hurt with anything but a blind apology.

    Maybe I just need to learn to let go more?

    One thing that has helped Zach and I a LOT is the idea of responding to emotion with logic. Don’t respond to emotion with logic, it doesn’t help the situation. Before hearing it explained that way, Zach didn’t understand why his logical solutions weren’t helping me when I needed emotional comfort instead. (I feel like this is a huge source of misunderstanding for everyone, married or dating or friends or family.)

  2. November 2, 2011 6:21 pm

    I love this new feature, and your fantastic advice! It’s funny-John and I generally reverse “normal” gender roles in an argument-I get rational and logical, and John gets emotional and upset, but I should really pay attention to No. 6!

  3. November 4, 2011 3:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing, my friends. It’s hard to be honest about this topic! Elspeth, I’m with you on #5. I have trouble not bringing other issues into the conversation because I remember EVERYTHING.

    And Lena, oh my gosh. Timeouts are such a life saver for me and Cory. But I hardly ever call them–I can argue for hours apparently. But whenever he makes us take a timeout, I’m usually grateful for the space to cool off and think things through.


  1. In case you missed it + your weekly roundup « In Love, Engaged
  2. Fighting fair: Soften your start-up « In Love, Engaged
  3. Fighting fair: Avoid blaming statements « In Love, Engaged
  4. Fighting fair: Express your feelings « In Love, Engaged

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