Fighting fair–do you do it in your relationship?

By Carolyn Edgar

I grew up in a household with parents who didn’t fight fair. My parents fought bitterly, including, until I was about nine or so,
physically. Even after the hitting stopped, the harsh words, nasty barbs and snide remarks remained. My mother couldn’t bear to say anything nice about my father up until the time of her death, even though he died 17 years before she did.

As a result, I never learned how to fight fair. My fights with my ex-husband were as rancorous as my parents’ fights had been. My daughter would cry when my ex and I would start in on each other. My son would hide behind the sofa until it was all over.

They both still remember those fights. Not long ago, my son said to me, “When you and Daddy were together, you two would fight and fight and fight.” He was only two-and-a-half when we separated.

Fighting fair is something I’ve had to learn in my current relationship. It didn’t come naturally. The first time I became angry with my partner, I did what I was accustomed to doing: I said something rude. I can’t remember what it was, but it was full of sarcasm and condescension.

And he was having none of it.

Instead, he told me his rules of engagement. They were:

1. We can disagree, but we will talk to each other with respect.

2.No sarcasm. State how you feel plainly, without the snide asides

3. No yelling.

4. No foul language.

5. No hitting or throwing things.

6. No name-calling.

7. No silent treatment – if something’s bothering you, let’s talk it out.

8. No low blows – no words you say just to hurt the other person’s feelings.

There may have been more, but you get the point.

And so far, it has worked.

Conflict isn’t pleasant. Most people try to avoid it, often with disastrous results. We create our own stories about the other person’s motives, what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling, and we act on what we believe to be true, instead of finding out what’s really true. Efforts to avoid conflict usually result in worse arguments than the one you would have had if you had just confronted the issues other head-on.

A wise friend said recently that learning how to fight fair is one of the keys to relationship success. Based on my own experience, I think he’s right.

It’s still not easy to always follow the rules of fight club. I’m a sarcastic person by nature, and the snark slips out. He’s no saint.
He’s spoken to me with a sharp tone here and there. But we generally manage to catch ourselves – or each other – before it gets out of hand.

What are your rules of engagement with your partner? Do you avoid fighting?  What do you do to ensure your fights are fair?




  1. Wendy @ mama one to three says

    Thank you for this and for the rules. I relate to the fighting at home while growing up. Your rules are simple; yet reading each one I thought “oh that would be a good idea!”
    My husband fights fair– I will be referencing your post!

  2. says

    ~~Just saw your piece about Natural Professionals on AfroBella and loved it!~~

    There weren’t two adult in my house as a child, so no fights. I learned the opposite, no fighting. Period.

    So I took that into my marriage. Until recently, I didn’t know disagreements and fair fights were healthy (necessary even) for growth and communication.

    But we live and we learn (and get Luvs) :o)

  3. VegasSeven says

    I would agree– there are many great ways to deal with disagreements rather than yelling, staying stupid things, throwing things or physical fighting. A little effort goes a long way and a new habit can feel natural more quickly than one thinks. And kids remember emotional experiences, both good and bad, for the rest of their lives. Great article!!!

  4. Elissa says

    This is a really important post – because not only does it apply to relationships in the bedroom – but also in the boardroom. I’ve often had to work with colleagues and learned how to disagree – by fighting fair. Getting nasty never works…tone and language are huge indicators of how a discussion will go. And? You can catch more flies with honey…than with vinegar…

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