Conflict is an inevitable part of any coupling, but how you handle the most difficult moments can define many other aspects your relationship—from the way you parent your children to the conversations you have over dinner. Fighting fair is critical to the long-term success of any partnership, so taking the time to learn healthy conflict-resolution skills is worth it. Keep your relationship in tip-top shape—even when you're about to blow your lid—by following these tips.
1. No name-calling.
The phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" does not apply in marriage. Calling your partner names is not just mean-spirited, it's caustic, so avoid it at all costs. Similarly, avoiding hurtful or button-pushing remarks is key to having a healthy fight with your spouse. Skip the low blows and keep the argument respectful, open, and honest.
2. Avoid "you always" and "you never."
Speaking in absolutes is one way to guarantee you won't be heard. Instead of saying, "You never help me with anything," be specific and explain what happened that made you upset: "I was frustrated when you didn't help me shovel the driveway."
3. Recognize what's really bothering you.
It's difficult to be in control of your emotions at all times, especially if something has upset you and you've yet to address it with your spouse. But instead of picking a fight over your love's breakfast dishes in the sink, slow down and recognize why you're really upset: Maybe you don't feel like you're getting enough support with the kids, or your partner doesn't understand the pressure you're facing at work. Whatever the underlying cause of your frustration, do your best to recognize it before getting into an argument.
4. Don't set out to "win;" set out to become closer.
Having a fair and respectful argument can actually bring you closer—so long as you both set out to resolve the conflict and not just "win" the fight. Don't let yourself go to a dark place during an argument; remember that a resolution will actually make your relationship better. To do this, each partner should have an equal opportunity to speak and be heard—don't plan out your rebuttal while your spouse is sharing her feelings.
5. Negotiate and compromise, then establish a plan for moving forward.
Everyone knows that relationships require compromise, and that's doubly true when you're fighting with your spouse. Once you've said your piece and actively listened to your spouse, be ready to negotiate and compromise. Both of you likely want to move forward from the argument, so talk through how you'll make that happen, whether it's a behavioral change, a scheduling change, or a new division of responsibilities.
6. Consider taking a "cooling off" period or establishing a time-out word.
Sometimes an argument gets so heated you just know you won't be able to resolve it until you've calmed down. The old adage "don't go to bed angry" is less-than-useful in these cases, so put your fight on pause—using a time-out word can help you to do this—and be sure you come back together and resolve the conflict when you're both feeling more level-headed.
7. Make sure you understand your partner's grievance by summarizing it and repeating it back.
For a fight to be fair, it's critical for both partners to understand the other's grievances. To ensure you're getting the message, listen carefully to everything your partner is saying and repeat it back in your own words. This may sound tedious, but knowing that your partner is upset about how you reacted during a recent conversation—and isn't saying you're generally an inconsiderate listener—can stop a minor spat from escalating into a screaming match.
8. Use touch and humor to cool down a heated argument.
This might not be possible if you're furious with each other, but if you're less upset than your spouse, try using a gentle gesture or sharing a funny anecdote to break the tension.
9. Respect your partner if he or she cries during an argument.
Crying is a completely normal reaction to conflict, so show your partner the respect he or she deserves and allow the tears to flow without pointing to them as a weakness.
10. Don't multitask during an argument.
A fight with your spouse is not the time to multitask. Show respect by sitting down together, preferably at the same level, and looking each other in the eye. Focusing on your spouse in this way will help you remember that you love this person and want to go back to being happy together. That said, doing something physical together—like taking a walk—can really help you diffuse negative energy that might otherwise be directed toward your partner.