Fighting or arguing in marriage and relationships is bound to happen. It is unavoidable. Keep your relationship healthy though through fighting fair. This includes rules that each partner must practice and follow.

Is fighting in my marriage normal?

Raise your hand if you don’t have fights with your spouse…. anyone? … anyone?

Now, raise your hand if you do fight in your marriage.

That’s when I imagine a lot of hands would go up. If you put it up on the first question… there might be other things going on (i.e. stonewalling).

As a marriage and family therapist, one thing I know without a doubt is that all couples fight. Every marriage has its fights, arguments, disagreements… call them what you want. I will call it fighting. I’m talking about verbal fighting. If there is physical fighting, please seek the help from a professional immediately.

Many couples get worried about their marriage because of fighting. Couples wonder if it is normal to fight so much, or how much fighting in a marriage is too much, or why do we fight so much, or what will happen to my marriage if we don’t stop fighting, or how can we stop fighting all the time… and on & on.

I have heard this topic come up time & time again whenever discussing relationships between husbands & wife (or husband & husband or wife & wife or whatever the mix!)

The perfect marriage has arguments and should have arguments.

If you think that fighting shouldn’t happen in your marriage then you should think again. The key difference in the healthy & happy marriages is in how the couples fight. It’s not about the frequency of fighting (in most cases) but what happens during these fights, arguments, or disagreements that makes the difference between the make it or break it couples.

It is OK to have a (fair and healthy) fight every so often. If not, you are most likely bottling things up or stonewalling… and these are definitely worse for your marriage than a nice, clean and fair fight.

This healthy type of fighting in your marriage doesn’t include yelling, screaming, interrupting each other or name calling but instead involves “rules” that everyone needs to follow for fighting fair in a relationship.

Rules to follow for fighting fair

1- Know why you are upset

Did it make you mad that the socks were left on the floor again? Or are you mad because you feel you are doing more of the housework than your partner?

Are you upset that your spouse went out for the evening with the boys/girls? Or are you feeling lonely or envious that you are the one home taking care of the kids?

This is where you need to separate the overlying & underlying feelings or the primary & secondary emotions to understand yourself better and why it is you are truly upset at this moment

2- Stay on topic

Discuss one issue at a time. Once one emotion is brought to the surface it’s easier to start remember past things that have made us feel a similar way and to start naming off all of the wrongs you feel have been done by your husband or wife. This won’t help! By bringing more problems into the fight it will only send the fight on an ugly and useless path.

**One suggestion I have found to help when we get off topic of the current argument is to write the topic down first (after you’ve done #1). Write down the topic & the emotion you are wanting to share. Your spouse does the same. Then have it in hand or in sight.

Staying on topic is a very difficult rule to follow. I know I have a hard time with it in my marriage and it’s one of the things I have to work hardest at when it comes to my husband & I fighting or even just discussing serious topics. It’s not hard for me to not say things that are off topic but the difficult part is not allowing my mind & my emotions to go back to the past or to other subjects. (Practicing mindfulness is one of the ways that I am working on this).

3- No name calling

Part of fair fighting includes not calling your spouse names. This includes no put downs & no degrading language. Using that type of communication will generally just put the other in defense mode because they will feel that they are being personally attacked. Once defenses come up, it’s harder for the mind to think logically and clearly and no one will come out feeling good from this fight once it goes down that type of path.

4- No interrupting

In any communication it is important to take turns talking. Not much will get accomplished or even heard if the two of you are trying to talk over each other. I see this as a waste of time and energy. If this is hard for you then set a timer. We all have one on our phone… set it for 5 minutes and take turns talking. At first, using a timer might feel funny but it really helps us learn how to make a habit of healthier communication in our marriages.

5- No yelling

Again, another rule that if not followed will not get much accomplished and nothing good will come from yelling at your spouse. For some people, it makes them feel better for a minute or two but it will get you no further in making your marriage better or improving your communication skills with your spouse.  Yelling will not help the problem but instead, generally put the other person’s defenses up. In any communication, when someone starts yelling, the other person usually shuts off any listening skills for healthy communication. And again, your fight will just go down an ugly & useless path.

6- No stonewalling

Stonewalling is basically closing up, shutting off or bottling it up which might feel good for some time but nothing good will come from this in the long run. Not communicating about the issue is worse for your marriage and only allows the wedge to start forming.

7- Take a Timeout if necessary

If your emotions are getting too heated then call a timeout. There are rules to follow for timeouts that you can read about here. Taking a timeout will allow you time to let your emotions cool down, process emotions, gather your thoughts, and think rationally as to what you are really upset about (see #1… then #2).

8- Take ownership of your words

These are the words you are using to express yourself… your thoughts, your emotions, etc. Using “I” statements is the best way to follow this rule.

9- Do not try to agree

Many couple are surprised to hear that our goal of healthy communication is not about agreeing. You are not trying to persuade your spouse or tell them why they are wrong or why they should think or feel a different way. Healthy communication is about being able to express yourself (in a healthy way), to allow your spouse to express themselves and to  make your spouse feel heard and cared about.

This takes us over into another major topic for issues in many marriages …. COMMUNICATION. This is tough one but I know it’s possible to have healthy communication in your marriage! It just takes practice.

Trying to remember these rules to fair fighting can be hard!

Especially when emotions are starting to rise! Print out this reminder of fair fighting rules to put on your fridge (kids can learn from this too!), tape it on your wall, mirror or wherever you need to so that you can be reminded of these rules & have easy access to them for when an argument comes up.

It’s also a hard habit to break if your fighting or arguments with your spouse currently include many of the do nots of these rules. Allow time to learn & implement them… allow some room for setbacks (no one is perfect) as long as you see yourself and your spouse trying to make changes to improve the fighting & communication in your relationship then you are on a path to creating a healthier, happier, and fair marriage.