All couples fight. Couples argue, and if you’ve been together for a long time or have kids, you’re almost certainly going to have disagreements and heated exchanges — that’s just par for the course. Fighting is not the problem; the trick is learning how to fight fair. And part of fighting fairly is ensuring you don’t fight with your partner in front of your family. Fighting privately and respectfully is crucial for any healthy, successful, and happy relationship.
Fighting is common and expected. According to Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City, “there is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that’s right for all couples.”
According to Alina Liu, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in California, it’s all about fighting in a productive way. The secret is not to avoid conflict entirely but to focus on “how we disagree and reconcile differences.” In fact, “healthy disagreements can help strengthen your relationship and deepen your connection with your partner.”
Healthy fighting, what a concept. But the tricks to fight fair and keep the arguments civil and private (aka not in front of your family) are actually pretty simple.
Set Ground Rules
As a couple, come up with some basic rules of engagement where fighting is concerned. Don’t throw around insults, and use “I” phrases instead of “you” comments. Listen more and talk less. Give each other time to process what you said and pause before you respond to make sure you don’t say something you’ll regret. And an important ground rule should be never to fight in front of your kids or family members if you can avoid it. Keep your disagreements private, so you don’t let your differences of opinion impact your loved ones.
Find Neutral Territory
Have a safe space where you can fight fairly and calmly, without others around. Maybe it’s outside in the yard or at a local park. Maybe in the car or your bedroom. Just find a neutral and private place where you can talk freely without feeling rushed or making your fight public business.
Keep a Journal or Write Down Feelings
Sometimes, it’s easier to write down how you feel, especially in the heat of the moment as you process your thoughts and emotions. Writing down a note to your partner or writing in a journal can help you process it all so you don’t say something you can’t take back. Plus, it allows you to work through an argument without airing all your dirty laundry in front of family members.
Have a Safe Word if Things Get Out of Hand
Sometimes arguments will get heated, and when they do, have a safe word or a mercy rule that allows you to pause the fight, cool down, breathe, and regroup later.
Focus on the Solution
Prioritize a loving environment, as you argue, rather than a state of combat. Do it privately and keep the energy full of love, even as you argue. “This way, you spend your energy looking for a solution, rather than spending your energy trying to win the argument,” explains Dr. Gary Chapman, marriage counselor, speaker, and author of the 5 Love Languages series. “Two adults who are looking for a solution will find one,” he argues.