Do you find yourself arguing with your significant other and getting nowhere? Conflict is inevitable in intimate relationships and completely normal, but often couples engage in destructive behavior that turns arguments into fights and leaves feelings hurt. The key is to show respect for your partner and to make the argument productive so that something positive can come out of it. Take a look below at these lists of “fair” and “unfair” behaviors. Most of the suggestions come from a handout I got in graduate school, and a few are from my own observations and experiences.

Unfair Behavior
• Name calling or personal attacks
• Bringing up unrelated issues from the past
• Getting off topic
• Intimidation/Threats of violence
• Expecting to have a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’
• Saving up many concerns to unload all at once
• Attempting to read the others’ mind or expecting them to read yours
• Denying the truth
• Ignoring the other

Fair Behavior
•Speaking one at a time and allowing equal time
•Checking to see if you are being understood
•Looking for compromise
•Trying not to generalize
•Allowing for breathers – a ‘breather’ means that you go for a walk or have a cup of coffee if
things start to get too heated, then return to finish the discussion when you are both calm
•Observing any ground rules you set
•Showing personal respect
•Being honest with yourself and your partner
•Giving your reasons without assigning blame
•Admitting when you are wrong
•Using “I” messages instead of “You” messages – Example: Instead of saying “You really messed up here,” try saying “I feel frustrated when this happens because…”

Do you find yourself engaging in any of the unfair behaviors when arguing? If so, try to monitor yourself, and you should find that when both partners implement fair behavior, arguments lead to solutions and compromises instead of emotional scars.

So remember, show that you care by fighting fair!

Best Wishes,
– Adam Shroat


Adam Shroat is a Graduate Counseling Student from Webster University and a Graduate Counseling Intern with Step By Step Counseling.