All Couples Fight: 11 Therapist-Approved Tips to Argue Fairly

All couples fight. It’s completely natural, and comes with the territory of being in a relationship. But when you find yourself bickering more than usual, it’s natural to wonder, “How much fighting is too much?” and “Are we totally screwed?”

Before you freak out and think your relationship is doomed because you had two fights last week, know this: it’s normal to have arguments and disagreements with your partner, says Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. “There is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that’s right for all couples,” he says.

The occasional argument is actually a good thing, says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author. “When couples fight, it means they care about the relationship,” she says. “When fighting goes away completely, sometimes one or both people have checked out.” Not fighting with your partner may indicate a different issue—perhaps you’re weary to share your true feelings, or you don’t trust your partner to handle your feelings.

So, instead of focusing on how often you fight as couple, think about how fairly you fight. Read on to discover 11 tips to help you fight more productively.

1. Pause…before you blurt out something hurtful.

When you’re in the heat of the moment and feeling emotional, it’s tough to think before you open your mouth. But taking a pause before you launch into a complaint will allow you to frame your grievance more effectively.

A few simple seconds gives you enough time to step back from squabbles and think: “How can I say this so my partner will hear it?” This quick, mental timeout will help you help you choose a kinder and calmer way to approach the situation, and make you more likely to be heard as a result.

2. Speak in “I” rather than “you” phrases.

Saying “I’m hurt” or “I feel really angry” instead of “You screwed up!” will lead to a more productive dialogue because it takes your partner off of the defensive.

“If you lead with accusation or blame, they won’t hear what you want them to hear. They’re going to feel at fault and you won’t get through,” says Meg Batterson, a couples psychotherapist based in New York.

Speaking in terms of how you feel and offering potential solutions to try together, rather than blaming your partner completely, will remind you that you’re in a partnership and need to work together to have a stronger relationship.

4. Avoid character assaults.

Unfortunately, arguments can often devolve into personal attacks (think name-calling, criticizing the core of who someone is or how they look)—and that is definitely not healthy for your relationship. If you’re name-calling, you’ve probably gone too far.

5. Instead, focus on the actual issue.

If you’re constantly rehashing old arguments, fighting about the same things over and over with no resolution or compromise, or feeling upset about the fact that you’re fighting all the time, that can become problematic.

John Gottman, world-renowned psychologist and relationship expert, says that one of the predictors of divorce occurs when a person consistently attacks her partner’s character rather than isolating the specific issues that are upsetting.

So, instead of saying, “Of course you didn’t do the dishes again. You’re lazy!”—which will either put your partner on the defense or make him retreat or resent you—try isolating the specific complaint or issue you have. You can say something instead like, “I feel frustrated when I come home to a sink full of dirty dishes. Can we set up a schedule for our chores so this doesn’t happen again?”

6. Listen more and talk less.

When we’re arguing, there’s a tendency to talk more than to listen. We’re so eager to get our feelings out, we may not even hear what our loved one is trying to express.

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