Arguing is an inevitable part of all relationships. However, additional damage can be created by the process of the argument, beyond what is created from what the fight is actually about; and this harm can be long-term and sometimes even be permanent. Meaning, it is possible to harm the relationship because of the way that you fight. Couples can find themselves far off topic and fighting about fighting. This additional damage can be minimized, and possibly even averted, by following rules for arguing fairly.

These rules help keep an argument ‘clean’ and on topic:

  1. Stay on point. Know what you’re fighting about. Ask yourself and each other, “what is this argument really about?”
  2. Stick to one subject only – keep the quarrel focused/specific. Arguments can veer off course and, when that happens, the root of the conflict gets lost.
  3. Be direct – say how you feel, say what you need
  4. Be kind – arguing is not a platform to be mean or hurtful to your partner
  5. Choose the time of your battles carefully (i.e., not 1AM or while you’re in the middle of a restaurant)
  6. Keep quarrels private
  7. Don’t triangulate others into your conflict (i.e., don’t “rope in” other people)
  8. Don’t read your partner’s mind
  9. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind
  10. Don’t blame or shame
  11. Own your own feelings – this means starting sentences with ‘I feel’, not ‘you make me feel’
  12. Don’t talk down to each other (i.e., don’t be condescending…morally, intellectually or experientially)
  13. Don’t make sweeping over-generalizations (“you never” or “you always”)
  14. Don’t be intentionally mean or cruel
  15. Don’t hit below the belt
  16. Don’t wear the belt too high (i.e., acting like you’re weaker or more fragile than you actually are)
  17. Don’t bring up past fights and use them as ammunition for the present one
  18. Actively listen (rather than waiting to speak)
  19. Don’t threaten to leave the relationship (divorce, break-up, move out, divide accounts, etc.). 
  20. No verbal abuse (i.e., name calling, screaming, threats, etc.)
  21. No throwing objects or breaking things
  22. No physical violence
  23. Respect your partner’s request to stop or “hit the pause button” – sometimes taking a break to de-escalate is a wise decision.