Rules of Engagement: Fair Fighting


  1. Deal with the Here and Now. What is the specific problem right now? Anything older than 24 hours is garbage, so no garbage dumping!
  2. Take responsibility. Use “I” statements as a way to show you are taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  3. Be direct and honest about your feelings and what you want.
  4. Listen and hear. Try to deal with the other person’s perceptions of the situation as well as your own. Be aware of his/her feelings as well as your own. Check to see whether what you heard is really what the other person is trying to express, and ask him to let you know what she hears you saying.
  5. Attack the issue, not the person. Name-calling puts people in a position to respond angrily and defensively. This is usually used when a person feels they are losing. Name calling breaks down communication and destroys trust in the relationship.
  6. Focus on solving a problem/reaching a solution rather than venting your anger or winning a victory.
  7. Deal with one issue at a time. No fair piling several complaints into one session. Some people call it “kitchen-sinking” – talking about everything including the kitchen sink!
  8. Give the other person equal time. Both people need to express their feelings and points of view to create a full mutual understanding.
  9. Take a breaker by paraphrasing what you think you heard them saying. Reflective listening. This give you time to think about your response.
  10. Limit your discussion/fight to no more than 30 minutes. Long drawn out discussions/fights rarely reach resolution. Instead they just wear the participants out. And when you are worn out, the potential of saying/doing something you’ll regret is much greater. If you go over 30 minutes, schedule another time to continue.
  11. Brainstorm solutions. Be willing to compromise. Give a little to get a little.
  12. Go forth as equals. Don’t use power plays. You are on the same team.
  13. Take a time out when necessary. Cool off, calm down, get perspective. A time out should be at least a half hour long but no longer than twenty four hours. It takes 30 minutes for your body’s physiology to return to a normal resting state and your thoughts to become less hostile or defensive.
  14. Give each other the ability to withdraw or change their mind.
  15. Speak softly. If you and your partner have a natural tendency to raise your voice, try whispering.
  16. Identify and define your issue or topic, and stick to it. Don’t change the subject or bring in unrelated items. If you have a different item, save it for the next discussion.
  17. Hold hands. “We are not fighting each other, but talking over a problem we are mutually trying to resolve.”
  18. Ask questions that will clarify, not judge. A question should never begin with the word “why”. It puts people on the defensive – and defensiveness stops conversation rather than continues it.


  1. Don’t refer to past mistakes and incidences. No garbage dumping!
  2. Don’t blame. Use “I” instead of “you” statements which automatically blame, making the other person defensive.
  3. Don’t make comparisons to other people, stereotypes, or situations.
  4. Don’t play games. Examples: “poor me”, silent treatment, martyr, “don’t touch me”, uproar, “if it weren’t for you…”, “yes, but…”, “see what you made me do”, “if you loved me”
  5. No talk of Divorce. In the heat of an argument, threatening to leave the relationship is manipulative and hurtful. It creates anxiety about being abandoned and undermines your ability to resolve your issues. It quickly 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 seem much bigger than they need to be.
  6. Do not use the following: swearing, denunciation, obscenities, character assassination, contempt, sarcasm, or taunting.
  7. No belittling each other’s accomplishments, no matter how small or odd they may be.
  8. Don’t be afraid to apologize when you are wrong. It shows you are trying.
  9. Don’t involve other people’s opinions of the situation. “Even _____ agrees with me.” Only opinions relevant are those of the two communicating at the time.
  10. Don’t make threats. Threats back people into a corner and then may choose the ultimatum in order to save face. You might not actually want to carry out your threat.
  11. Don’t argue about details. Avoid exchanges like “You were 20 minutes late”, “No, I was only 13 minutes late.” – an easy way to distract from the problem and further infuriate your partner.
  12. Don’t demand to win. If you do, your discussion will surely become an argument.
  13. Don’t use “always” and “never”. These are exaggerations and will put the other person on the defensive.
  14. Don’t interrupt, talk over, or make comments while the other person is speaking. Also avoid rolling eyes, smirking, yawning, etc.
  15. Don’t walk away or leave without saying “I’ll be back”.
  16. No finger pointing.
  17. Don’t save up feelings and dump them all at once. Try to air feelings often.
  18. Try not to yell.
  19. Don’t read your partner’s mind.
  20. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind.
  21. Do not assume, guess, imagine, take for granted, theorize, surmise, speculate, make gestures, judgements, funny glances, or faces about what your partner means. Find out!

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