Fair fighting rules for not all fights are a problem!
Are the two of you arguing constantly – fighting and bickering near enough every day?
Are you living with endless rows, shouting, stonewalling and that horrible sense of rejection? Are the relationship problems piling up on you?
Well, I’m here to help you to get to grips with what’s wrong. My aim is to show you how the two of you can resolve any future disagreements much quicker without inflicting all that pain.
If you’re constantly angry with each other, chances are that you’re too often feeling unhappy and anxious.
The anger that comes with bickering and arguing sometimes masks the sadness about things going awry. It also comes from the frustration of an old problem rearing its ugly head yet again (see also my articles on anger management techniques).
You or your partner may even question your compatibility. That is, unless you’re one of these couples who always bicker and just take it as it comes.
I’m hoping that the information here and in other articles on my site will equip you with ways to better communicate about why you become so passionate – relationship help is at hand!
More than anything, I want to reassure you that even though you have rows, your relationship may actually be very strong – perhaps even because of the arguments!
Putting your rows, fights and bickering into perspective
Arguing about money?
Many couples struggle to agree on how they should spend their money. Worse still, skeletons in the cupboard often range from secret, wasteful and unaffordable purchases, to debts and undisclosed bank accounts.
Putting your rows, fights and bickering into perspective
If your relationship is really not a bed of roses right now, we better get it sorted…
- First of all, when you begin to focus on meeting each other’s essential emotional needs you’re much more likely to be able to ride the waves and calm things down.
- Prof. John Gottman spent more than four decades researching what makes a happy, long-lasting relationship or marriage. According to Gottman, the most important thing is that you have five positive experiences for every negative one. How can you bring that about?
- In addition, consider what you could be doing if you weren’t arguing! What exciting things could you to do together or talk about (see my Loving Communication Kit for Couples) instead of wasting your time bickering about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things?
Nevertheless, you’re here because you can’t stand arguing any longer. Perhaps you’ve been feeling rejected – unloved and unheard. If so, you may also want to read my article: How to ‘make’ someone love you again.
For starters then, let’s get the following out of the way….
10 ways to start an argument and worsen your relationship problems
- Settling scores – a guaranteed way to cause relationship issues or marital problems;
- Power battles and/or scoring points for whatever reason;
- Treating your partner with contempt (think eye-rolling, calling you an idiot, sarcasm, etc.);
- Wanting to be right all of the time;
- Wanting to win an argument;
- Manipulating your partner or situations to get your own way;
- Undermining the person you are supposed to love;
- Using your partner or spouse deliberately to get what you want;
- Controlling your partner or spouse;
- Abusing your partner in any way, for example financially, physically, mentally and/or emotionally (see: Signs of an abusive relationship).
There’s no doubt that your relationship will go sour when you resort to any of these things. And number 10 is a dangerous one because it may result in a very compliant partner who’s on the road to long-term psychological problems.
And then there’s the seemingly opposite of arguing yet it too is a way to engage your partner in a negative way – it’s using the silent treatment.
Do you recognise yourself in any of the above?
Whilst all of these behaviours are obviously unhelpful in a relationship, there’s a reason for them (though not an excuse).
If you’ve found yourself resorting to communicating using any of the above spoilers, then you may just be attempting to meet some of your essential emotional needs. Those needs may be – for example – your need for attention, or your need for a sense of safety, security or friendship and even laughter.
Are your problems perpetual?
“Gottman and Levenson discovered that couples’ interactions had enormous stability over time (about 80% stability in conflict discussions separated by 3 years). They also discovered that most relationship problems (69%) never get resolved but are perpetual problems based on personality differences between partners.”
Always the same fights, rows and bickering?
If you constantly argue, you’re likely to make the same communication mistakes over and over again. I suspect the two of you are well and truly tired of your relationship problems and in desperate need of relationship advice.
I’m guessing that you’re blaming your partner and can’t understand why he or she just doesn’t get it, and why things aren’t getting any better. I accept, though, that he or she may be to blame (if you really want to use that word), but you do need to find another way to get your point heard.
If you continue to react and behave in the same way I’m afraid the outcome isn’t going to change either.
If that’s happening to you, it’s no wonder that you may even have considered ending your relationship or marriage. If so, you might want to get a clearer picture of the situation, and find out for sure if your relationship or marriage has a chance of survival. My Marriage Compatibility Test will help you to do just that.
Now… back to how you can improve your communication skills and assert your points without causing a damaging row…
Things you can do to prepare for a ‘good’ argument
It helps if your partner knows in advance that you want to discuss something important, or something that you know would normally cause an argument. Here’s what you should consider:
10 tips on how to communicate without arguing
- Know what you want to achieve in the ideal circumstances.
- Consider alternative solutions or outcomes that you can live with.
- Know what you’re willing to give up – remember: it’s not about winning.
- Consider how you could be biased. Read up on confirmation bias and attitude polarisation (see Wikipedia links below).
- Work out what you want to say beforehand, write it down if necessary.
- Consider your tone of voice – how you say things is really important.
- Be prepared to soothe yourself.
- Practise responding calmly to any potentially adverse reactions (REALLY important!).
- Be prepared to learn from any criticism – accept it, or simply cast aside if it is destructive (see: How to deal with criticism).
- Make sure you’re sober – don’t have a difficult conversation when you’ve had a drink.
It can be really helpful to decide on a reward for after the conversation. Plan something that you’re both looking forward to doing together.
Conversations about difficult subjects (or even everyday niggles) are only a part of your relationship.
You can nurture your marriage or relationship by planning new and rewarding activities. (Tip: a new activity increases the level of dopamine – a feel-good hormone linked with excitement and energy.) And of course, pay your partner a compliment every day. Remind them and yourself why he or she is so special!
Need to talk about something important with your partner? Or even something simple that bugs you? Think it might turn into a fight? Then read on..
Below are some tips to help you have a constructive discussion without it disintegrating into a full-blown argument.
Set the scene for ‘fair fighting’ – more relationship help
- Make sure that it’s a good time for both of you. Couples can turn disagreements into fights simply by picking the wrong time to discuss something contentious.
- Get the Stop Arguing hypnosis download and listen to it frequently.
- Give yourself the best chance of tackling the problems calmly by reading my article on relationship communication.
- Familiarise yourself with the importance of nonverbal communication.
- Make sure that you won’t be disturbed – turn off your phones, the TV and the radio etc.
- Establish ground rules before you start to ensure a ‘fair fight’ – for example, agree to stay calm and not to allow shouting, name calling or put-downs etc.
- Agree to stop or take a break when you fear you are losing control.
- Set a time limit on the conversation – perhaps 20 – 30 minutes.
You may not necessarily come to a conclusion, but if you’ve managed to have a respectful discussion then you’ve been successful. I recommend that you agree on another time when you can build on your discussion to work out a solution that would suit you both.
Tips to help you restore the balance in your relationship
10 tips to help prevent the two of you arguing so much
- Invite your partner to help you to both get the best out of the chat.
- Give your partner plenty of time to express him or herself.
- Avoid interrupting at all costs! Interrupting your partner is sure to lead to an argument.
- Listen out for underlying emotional needs that haven’t been met. When you’ve been married or in a relationship for some time, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that you both need to have your essential emotional needs met in balance.
- Ask questions in a neutral tone of voice and avoid making assumptions.
- Remember: listening does not imply that you’re agreeing!
- Repeat what you think you’ve heard in your own words.
- Summarise to check that you have understood as much as possible.
- Ask how the other’s solution will solve the problem without arguments.
- Ask and ensure that your partner allows you to do the same – offer solutions that will prevent you arguing as a couple.
Listen carefully – L.O.V.E.
Learn – in order to learn, listen
Observe – notice the other person’s body language
Verify – clarify information
Empathise – keep your heart open at all times 
Are you absolutely sure you’re right?
Of course you’re absolutely sure you’re right!
But are you really?
Just watch this video of a talk by Elizabeth Loftus, an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory. You’ll be shocked and amazed by how easy it is to get things wrong…
(If you’re short on time, start at 5.30 min)
Fair fighting rules
How to turn a nasty row into a passionate discussion
12 Ways to prevent a major discussion turning into a major row
1. Be specific and focus on one issue at a time
– don’t drift into other issues as this will just complicate things.
2. Stay on topic
– avoid talking about other people and events.
3. Be brief
– avoid being wordy or boring your partner with a long monologue.
4. Illustrate your point if necessary
– with one or two brief examples only.
5. Turn complaints into wishes
– this is one of the best ways to stop disagreements turning into fights.
6. Contribute to a positive outcome
– each of you can make a choice about what you both can do to help.
7. Accept that you may have to agree to differ
– there’s no point in repeating the same statements over and over again.
8. Learn to enjoy giving
– rather than controlling, and without a direct expectation of getting something in return. (But that doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be walked all over!)
9. Build up credit
– in your emotional bank account. Surprise your partner every now and then with a special meal, a gift or a little love note tucked in a pocket or bag. Send romantic text messages, leave a card in their work bag (learn how to write beautiful (Valentine’s day) card messages). This is one of the most important fair fighting rules.
10. Refrain from using communication spoilers
– see my article on the signs of emotional abuse.
11. Keep your voice down
– shouting leads to not being heard.
It’s easy with my free downloadable fun relationship quizzes.
What about gay or lesbian couples?
“Gay/lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive in how they receive it. Gay and lesbian couples are also more likely to remain positive after a disagreement. “When it comes to emotions, we think these couples may operate with very different principles than straight couples. Straight couples may have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian relationships,” explains Gottman.”
Oh, and don’t forget to apologise sincerely when you know you’ve screwed up!
How to prevent rows, fights and bickering
You can prevent major rows simply by avoiding major discussions at particular times…
10 occasions when you’d better avoid a major discussion
- When one or both of you are under the influence of alcohol – an absolute no, no
- When one or both of you are about to go out
- When you’re driving
- When there are other people around
- When your children can overhear (although they don’t need to be protected from constructively argued disagreements)
- When you’re tired, hungry or ill
- When you feel particularly stressed
- When it’s a special day (birthdays, Christmas, etc) – the memory of a negative event is likely to hang around much longer
- When you already know that there is a better time!
- When you’ve had little sleep
How to conclude your discussion
- Brainstorm together for ideas neither of you had even considered. Make it fun and who knows what you can come up with!
- Confirm what each of you is responsible for to ensure a successful outcome
- Discuss the best ways to remind each other of agreements, without pressure and arguments
- Be clear together what the consequences are for non-committal
- Set a date and time when you can revisit the subject (I call it a board meeting when I work with couples)
Can’t even be bothered to be nice to each other anymore? Then it’s time to seek help!
If the two of you are constantly at loggerheads, it’s time to seek some help. Counselling, as an individual or as a couple, can really help to transform your relationship. It’s easy now to set up online counselling and have your very own licensed therapist standing by to help and guide you (both).
For further information on couples or marriage counselling, read my article: Does marriage counselling work?.
I really do understand how scary it can feel when you’re constantly arguing. However, it really doesn’t need to mean the end of your relationship. You need the right skills to build a good relationship and be the best partner you can be. Those skills can be learned. You can do it, just give it some time.
A super resource to help you have better conversations is the latest book by leading relationship experts John Gottman PhD and his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman PhD – 8 dates. They’ll help you ask the questions you didn’t know you had to ask. It’s a great wake-up book for couples in a long-term relationship. Let the sun shine again!
And, of course, dealing with the constant arguing in your relationship isn’t the only way to deal improve your relationship. If you want to learn more, have a look at how to deal with a ‘boring’ spouse or how to fix your relationship in other ways. There’s plenty more advice I can give you :-)
 Gottman, J., Silver, N. What Makes Marriage Work? Psychology Today, 19 June 2012, via Psychology Today
British Association of Anger Management. Anger Management Therapy: Keep Your Cool Kit. Via BAAM
Images courtesy of: Roger Price