Remember when your relationship was so new that you thought you’d never fight? Like, you’re so madly in love what could you possibly fight about?! Cute, right? Sometimes I wish we could bottle up some of that love drunk optimism and sip on it when we need it most. The truth of relationships is that they’re dynamic and always shifting–just like the people who are in the relationship. One of the things that most couple’s therapists agree on is that people walk in our offices wanting to work on communication skills. I think we all inherently understand that being skilled communicators can help in our relationships. Being able to say what we mean to say, and being able to be understood? Goals. The good news? Totally achievable goals.

Couples fight. It’s normal and real, but it also doesn’t have to be totally awful. In fact, it is important that we hash things out in our relationships. However, Michelle, over at, and I agree. Having some ground rules for keeping fights fair is invaluable. Our fights don’t have to be all-out screaming matches that leave us in heaps of sadness and all of the bruised feels. In fact, it’s possible to leave a conflict feeling heard and validated. Curious? Here are some helpful rules for keeping your fights fair:

1. No name-calling.

First thing’s first, friends. We must be kind to our beloved(s). Name-calling and insulting doesn’t solve problems, it creates them.

2. No interrupting

Keep the dialogue going. When emotional temperatures rise, it can be really hard to get a hold of our tongues. Make sure everyone who is part of the fight has enough time to express themselves clearly.

3. No blaming or accusations.

It’s just not useful, you know? When we blame our partner, we’re really only inviting defensiveness and end up escalating the argument even further. Plus, it takes you farther away from solving the problem and closer to disconnection. Focus instead on what can be done about it.

4. No yelling.

This escalates things further, too. Take a couple of big deep breaths instead of raising the volume. If yelling seems like the only option, see #10.

5. No sarcasm or contempt.

Say what we mean and mean what we say. Sarcasm can be really confusing and totally derail the whole process! In order to have a fruitful conversation, it’s really important to express ourselves as clearly as we can.

6. No defensiveness.

Think “respond not react.” When our partner says something that stings a little bit, we can give ourselves a moment to digest the information. Reacting defensively can make your fight worse and can derail the conversation.

7. No generalizations or global criticism (you always, you never, you’re selfish).

Chances are, our partners aren’t actually “always” doing something and “never” doing something else. Stay in the present moment. What is this fight about? How does this feel right now?

8. No physical/emotional intimidating gestures/violence/threats.

Use of or threatening to use force of any kind is straight up unacceptable. Don’t do it, and don’t tolerate it.

9. No walking out without naming a follow-up time.

We all fight differently. Some of us prefer to leave the room when things get heated. That is totally okay! But letting fights just hang out in the air like that can feel really crappy later. Make sure to agree on a time in the near future to follow up, within 24 hours is best.

10. Use of, and respect for, the Time Out.

If it all feels like too much, it’s time for a Time Out. Fights can and do get really heated all the time. If we find ourselves violating the rules above (or really, really wanting to). Call a Time Out and take a 30-minute breather. Big emotions can have big physiological impacts on our bodies. Giving ourselves some time to cool off and collect our thoughts means that we can come back to the conversation and actually get somewhere.

Perhaps some of these rules don’t feel like they fit. That’s okay! Part of the fun of having our very own relationships is that we get to make the rules as we go. Make dinner together, grab some pens, and create a list of fair fighting rules that fit your relationship. Feel stuck? Feel free to use the list above for ideas, and remember that a therapist can help you prioritize your relationship and build the life you want, together.