Conflict Resolution: "Fair Fighting"
an exercise in Harmony
    Conflict in relationships of whatever kind is not the problem. All couples, friends and families
    have disagreements. It's not-knowing how to effectively "argue" that creates difficulty in a
    marriage or relationship, of whatever sort.

    Fair fighting is a conflict management and resolution process, with the aim of improving
    interpersonal communication between friends, couples and family members. Everybody
    understands the need for rules in sports, but often forget them when trying to resolve
    conflict in their own situations.

    Yet, conflict doesn’t have to be unsafe, unpredictable and without purpose. People who are
    committed to following a set of rules, discover that conflict can be (and is) an opportunity
    for them to grow their “cooperation muscles.”

    Managing and handling conflict constructively can even help people develop greater close-
       ness through achieving mutual understanding, learning to cooperate, taking each other's
     perspective, and resolving problems together.

           This is really important in relationships, friendships and families.

    1: No Blind-Siding
    Don't let little things that bother you build up until one of you explodes the issue into a large fight.
    That's not fighting fair in your relationships.

    Whatever it is will build up out of all proportion and then, over the slightest, almost
    unrelated thing come bursting out and totally blind-siding the other person.

    If you are angry about something and don't try to talk about it with your spouse
    within 48 hours (preferably within 24 hours), let it go. Otherwise, you are not fighting fair.

    If your spouse doesn't want to discuss the matter, set an "appointment"
    within the next 24 hours to have your fair fight.

    2: No Degrading Language
    Fighting fair means no name calling, name-calling, insults, put-downs or swearing.

    When you intentionally injure your partner, it’s the same as saying, “You are not safe
    with me. I will do whatever it takes to protect myself or to win.” Unfortunately,
    these things; “winning and protecting” are the major causes for fighting, in the first place.

    Sports have many rules against one player intentionally injuring another one. The
    same rules must not just apply in relationships, they absolutely must be followed.

    3: No Blaming
    Blaming and accusing each other isn’t only pointless - it is absolutely counter-productive.
    That immediately puts the other on the defensive – and we all know that a good defence is
    a superior offence: it will only escalate the argument.  Blaming your spouse distracts you
    from solving the problem at hand, and totally fogs the issue.

    4: Focus On The Issue
    Be clear on what the issue is and then, both of you stick to the subject. Example: if one of
    you leaves the Utility Bill lying on the table for the other to see, and the bill later goes
    missing, you might be tempted to blame each other.

    Each might insist that the other person is disorganized, must have picked it up and put
    it somewhere else. The result is that they will take turns accusing each other of
    being absent-minded and insist   that the other just doesn't remember where s/he put it.

    But blaming each other will not accomplish anything - it won't help either of you feel
    any better. It won't strengthen your relationship at all - and it won't help you find
    the bill, or whatever the issue is that you are having a conflict about.

    Keep your conflict between the two of you.
    Don't bring in third parties like your in-laws; his/her best friend, or your children.

    Don't bring up past history, unless you’re using it as an example from the past where a
    similar thing happened that was never fully resolved – to use it as something to learn from
    –  not as a blaming thing.

    Remember to not fight to win, but to fight for your relationship
    – you are aiming for a win-win resolution.

    In situations like this, make a conscious decision that your relationship is too important to
    undermine it with blame and judgment - and personal comments.

    Focus on keeping your goodwill for each other intact and finding solutions to the problem
    instead of blaming.

    This includes watching body language. Look at one another while you speak.

    Don't interrupt during your fight; agree to use turns and let one person speak at a time.
    When one speaks, the other should be listening—really listening, not just planning their
    rebuttal. Take turns speaking and listening so that you both have a chance to say what you

    This goes right back to the rules we were taught as kids about respectful playground
    behaviour. Have you ever tried to work through a difficult issue when your spouse was
    talking over top of you and interrupting you? Remember how that felt? Consciously
    remind yourself about this when you feel an overwhelming urge to interrupt or speak your

    Try to use 'I' sentences instead of 'you' sentences.
    Don't use the words "never" and "always" in your statements to one another.

    If the two of you are not extremely angry, try to hold hands while talking during your fight.
    Be open to asking for forgiveness and being willing to forgive (each of you will have
    needed forgiveness at one point or another).

    It may be hard to forgive someone, but not forgiving can cause more harm both
    emotionally and physically to yourself and to your relationship. Holding a grudge is letting
    someone else live in your head rent free.

    6: Respect The Other Person
    Fighting fair means you don't hit below the belt; respect the other person. Putting your
    partner down or criticizing the other person’s character shows disrespect for their dignity.
    Remember that even endearing terms and pet names can be hurtful when you are using a
    sarcastic tone; and be careful how you use humour.

    Laughter is good, but teasing can be misinterpreted and end up being  hurtful.
Do not talk in a threatening tone.
Yelling only escalates things.
Chances are that nothing will get resolved when your emotions are running so high.
If you’re very angry and feel like yelling, then it’s time to step away and cool down.

Yelling can be subjective.
What is yelling to your spouse may not be yelling to you.
Perhaps you are not tuned in to how you sound.
Or you may have grown up in a home where family members were loud and passionate, and
talking loud when you are upset seems normal.

The other person's experience is the one that counts here, however.
If it feels like yelling to that person, then you are at least raising your voice, if not yelling.
Make a conscious effort to lower your voice.

The meaning of your communication lies in how your message is actually landing with      
others. If you can’t tone it down because you are too upset, then it is probably best to take       
a time-out.

8: No Use Of Force Or Threats
Using physical force or threatening to use force (i.e. a raised fist or a verbal threat) in any     
way is not acceptable. Develop the self-discipline to set limits on your anger and your  
behaviour before you reach this level. If either of you resort to physical force and violence in
your relationship, seek professional help.

Use of force includes pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, punching, slapping or restraining.
It includes punching a hole in a wall, throwing things or breaking something in anger.
Acting out your anger in these ways violates the other person’s boundaries and sense of safety.
Each of us has a right to be safe and free of abuse or physical danger in our relationships.

Threatening to leave the relationship in the heat of an argument is manipulative and hurtful.
It creates anxiety about being abandoned and undermines your ability to resolve your issues.
It instantly erodes your partner’s confidence in your commitment to the relationship.
Trust is not easily restored once it is broken in this way.
It makes the problems in your relationship not just seem much bigger than they need to be,
they will be bigger.

9: Define Yourself, Not The Other Person
You are only an expert of your own world at best, not the other person’s world.
Use words that describe how you feel, and what you want and need.
Don’t try and tell the other person what they feel, want, or believe.
It’s always, so it seems, easier to analyze the other person than to analyze yourself.

Interpreting your partner’s thoughts, feelings and motives will distract you from identifying  
your own underlying issues, and you’ll virtually most certainly be wrong - and will    
immediately invite defensiveness from the other person.

Telling the other person what s/he thinks or believes or wants is absolutely both controlling  
and presumptuous. It is saying that you know their inner world better than they do.

It is better and more productive to work on identifying your own unmet needs, feelings, and
ways of thinking and describe these needs and feelings to the other person.
10: Stay In The Present
Stay in the present and resist the temptation to use the situation as an occasion to bring up   
other issues from the past (except as examples as stated above, if they are going to be used as
examples of similar sorts of things in the past that didn't work then, so that you can learn from
them, now).
Bringing up the past is discouraging, because most importantly, you can’t change the past (See
You can only change today, and you can work, and look forward, to a better future.
Keep your focus on what can be done today to resolve the issue at hand and go forward from
If you get off-topic, on to other issues, stop yourselves and agree to get back on track.
You can always come back to other issues later.

If you do find yourself bringing up issues from the past it is likely because those issues were
never resolved in the first place.
Things may have happened that you and your spouse never really talked about.
Or you may have tried to talk about it in the past but without fighting fair.
This rule will be easier to follow, going forward, if you both make a commitment to discuss
issues as they happen rather than letting them fester.
See Number 4 above on this, too.

  • Note on positive aspect of bringing up the past: sometimes it is useful to bring up  
    an example from the past to learn from, as in: "remember that time when . . .   and we
    didn' t sit down like this to talk it out, and remember how much worse it got for a while?
    Let's never do that again - this way works so much better".
like this to sort things out, like we did about (name_issue), it gets "fixed" and both of us feel
good afterwards, not all angry or frustrated."

11: When Necessary, Use Time-Outs
When you violate these fair fighting rules it typically is a sign that you have already crossed a
threshold physiologically.
It is a sign that the more primitive, emotional centers of your brain are sending signals, and   
they have begun to drown out the signals from the more rational parts of your brain.
It is definitely a sign of emotional immaturity.

What is happening at this stage is that stress hormones flood your body and self-preservation
becomes the focus.
In this fight-or-flight state, creative problem-solving and mutual cooperation are unlikely.
You end up in an escalating argument that becomes more and more hostile and defensive.
In fact, it is impossible to have a rational discussion in a climate of hostility and disrespect.
This is when it’s time for a time-out.

A time-out is a short break to cool off, calm down and get perspective.
Think of it like pushing the pause button on a video.
It’s an opportunity to restore calm and be more reflective instead of reactive.

Use the
time-out to reflect on why you feel the way you do.
Think about how to express yourself in a positive way.
Try to think about the other person’s feelings and point of view.
Think things through before you speak.
Then “push play” again and return to each other to resolve the issues calmly.

A time-out should be at least a half-hour long (but no longer than twenty-four hours) – see   
Rule Number 1, too.
It takes at least a half-hour for your body’s physiology to return to a normal resting state and   
for your thoughts to become less hostile or defensive.
It’s surprising how different a person’s outlook can be after they’ve had a chance to calm down.
Rules such as the ones above represent a completely different way of fighting for many    people than
Many of them grew up in homes where yelling, blaming, name-calling and finger-pointing  were
considered normal methods for handling disagreements.
Because they happened so often, such methods eventually became to be seen, and feel, as normal;
especially when they were not exposed to any other models for handling disagreements.

It’s time for you to seriously reflect on how well you “follow the rules” when you fight?
You can use the list above, as you’re reading to evaluate your own fighting style.

Do you “fight fair” or are you a “below the belt” fighter?
Which of these rules do you struggle with?
Are there changes you need to make?
Write down:
  • any rules that you find yourself breaking in an argument.
  • any steps you could take to help you keep that rule.

Personal Communication Skill-set needed:
Conflict management skills
A sense of fairness
Putting your relationships first
Ability to listen
Respect for one another
Awareness of when to apologize
Willingness to forgive

I offer a Seminar/Workshop on this as well: see Seminar/Workshop page.

Related Pages
Trust Building
Talking Things Out

Klaas Tuinman
Deerfield, NS, Canada
2010 Rev 2020
Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Life Self-Empowerment Facilitation
at Dawn Cove Abbey
Comments and Questions are welcomed