For a relationship to be rewarding and satisfying for both partners, it is crucial to have an open line of communication. Effective communicator includes speaking up if something is bothering you. If you do not speak up, your partner may never know something is wrong and things may quickly escalate. Relationships are not always going to be wonder-free and blissful; it is inevitable that there will be arguments and fights. It is important to realize there is both a constructive and deconstructive way to fight and argue with your partner.
Guidelines for Fighting Fairly
The following are some tips for fighting fairly with your partner.
- Avoid “you” statements: It is helpful to avoid “you” statements as much as possible. Instead focus on using ‘I’ statements that reflect the way you feel. Using ‘you’ statements tends to make the other person feel as if all the blame is being placed on them.1 The following is an example to demonstrate the difference. Think about which statement you would rather hear from your partner.
- You statement: “You go too fast and never want to have foreplay when we’re having sex.
- I statement: ” I feel like we should take our time and incorporate more foreplay into our sex life. What do you think?”
- In the first sentence, the word “you” focuses the blame on the other person, and requires assumptions of what the other person is thinking. Making assumptions can make problems worse by upsetting your partner and causing the fight to escalate. The second sentence, however, focuses on the way you feel. By using ‘I’ language Incorporating an open-ended question. Open-ended questions require more thought and communication, and therefore allow you to discuss the problem thoroughly
- Use Specific examples: An effective technique for constructive communication is to use a specific example of the issues you are discussing.1 Continuing with the previous example, the speaker might say, “I felt that last night when we were having sex we went a little fast and didn’t incorporate much foreplay. I feel that we might enjoy moving more slowly next time we are being intimate by incorporating more foreplay. What do you think?”. Using concrete examples help to demonstrate what the speaker is trying to say.
- Intent should match impact: The goal of effective communication is for the intent to match the impact. Intent is what you actually mean, or the point you want to get across. Impact is what the person you’re talking to thinks or believes you mean.1 For example, if the speaker says, “I did not get an orgasm last night because we did not engage in foreplay”, and then storms out of the room angrily, then the speaker’s intent will likely not match the impact. The speaker is trying to communicate that he or she wants more time for foreplay during sex. However, the partner is likely to interpret it as if he or she is a bad lover. Thus, in this example, the speaker is not an effective communicator. Sometimes you know exactly what you want to say, but have trouble finding the right words. Other people may not always understand what you are trying to say. The best way to get your message across is to say it honestly and clearly, and to think about where, when, and how best to say it. The goal of communicating problems is to make a situation better, not to make it worse.
- Be a good listener: Not only is it important to voice your concerns to your partner, it is also crucial to listen to your partner. To be a good listener, you need to give your full attention by putting down your phone, unplugging your earphones, and making eye contact.2 Try to stay present in the discussion; Sometimes people are too distracted from thinking about their next response that they do not focus on what their partners are expressing. In addition, listen to your partner with an open mind before immediately becoming defensive and voicing out your response.
- Use positive non-verbal communication: Nonverbal communication is an essential aspect of effective communication. Avoid eye-rolling, displaying frustrated and annoying facial expressions, or inattentive body positions. Good body language includes making eye contact and displaying relaxed facial expression. Body contact, such as lightly squeezing your partner’s arm, shows your empathy.
Benefits of Good Communication
There are many benefits to engaging good communication. For example, effective communication can lead to a stronger relationship.5 Good communication builds relationships because you learn to express your feelings clearly and to be respectful of your partner. If both partners convey their feelings honestly, they can learn more about each other and better understand each other’s viewpoints. Research shows that self-disclosure is closely correlated to satisfaction with the relationship.1 Self disclosure promotes intimacy in a relationship so it makes a couple feel closer to each other.
Another benefit of effective communication is that it reduces conflicts in a relationship.5 Many problems can arise in a relationship; however, communicating with your partner to solve conflicts that do occur can help prevent future problems.
Tips on Effective Communication
Arguments in a relationship are natural. It is helpful for you and your partner to come up with a set of rules so that the arguments will not harm the relationship. The following are several ways to solve problems and avoid escalating the issues:
1. Pick the right time and place. You do not want to bring up problems when you do not have the necessary time to talk. For example, starting a fight right before you or your partner have to leave for school or work is not an ideal time. Pick an occasion when you both have adequate time to discuss the issues at hand.
2. State your feelings honestly without being sarcastic or insulting to the other person. You need to edit your thoughts and reframe from saying anything that might be hurtful to the other person. Do not use your partner’s sensitivities to hurt him/her.
3. Stick to the issues. Do not bring up previous arguments or talk about prior partners. Only discuss what the current problem is.
4. Do not try to figure out who is at fault. It is more important to move forward and solve the problem.
5. Stick to ‘I’ statements and avoid “you” statements (See Guidelines for Fair Fighting).
6. Avoid using words such as “always” and “never”. Reframing from these words will help you stay away from criticizing your partner’s entire personality.
7. Do not mind-read. If you do not know how your partner feels or what they think, then ASK.
8. Include positive statements and compliments alongside your complaints. (Research discovered that there is a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative interactions between couples in a stable marriages).1
9. Only fight with you partner when your partner agrees to it. If your partner is tired or not in a mood for a fight, do not insist on continuing. A fair fight requires mutual consent.
10. Paraphrase what you think you heard your partner say. For example, you can say “What I hear you saying is that you get upset when I do not reply to your text messages. Is that correct?” These statements can help minimize miscommunication.
11. Learn from your fights. Take note on what went well during the fight and what did not work for you and you partner. For example, paraphrasing was used during the fight and no miscommunication occurred, then it is a good method to continue to use during future fights; However, if you realized you interrupted your partner a lot during the fight, next time focus on only speaking when appropriate.
12. Eliminate violence.4
Signs of an Abusive Relationship
Anyone can be a victim in an abusive relationship, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation and religion. The abusive partner tries to gain control or maintain power over his or her partner by using actions or threats of actions. These actions can be physical, emotional, sexual or psychological.
The first step to ending an abusive relationship is to recognize the signs. Some warnings include the constant fear of your partner, or if your partner hurts or threatens you. Here are more signs of an abusive relationship.
Do you feel:
- Afraid of your partner.
- You cannot do anything right in your partner’s eyes.
- You deserve mistreatment.
- Emotionally helpless or numb.
- It is necessary to avoid certain topics from fear of angering your partner?
Does your partner do the following to you:
- Yell, criticize or humiliate you.
- Treat you so badly that you are afraid or embarrassed to see your friends or family.
- Ignore or make fun of your opinions/ accomplishments.
- Blame you for their abusive behavior.
- See you as property such as a sex object rather than a person.
- Have a bad and unpredictable temper.
- Hurt or threaten to hurt or kill you.
- Threaten to hurt or to take children away.
- Threaten to commit suicide if you leave.
- Force you to do anything you do not want to do, including sex.
- Destroy your belongings.
- Act extremely jealous.
- Control what you do or where you go.
- Constantly check up on you.
- Keep you from seeing friends or family?
- Limit your access to personal needs such as money or car?3
If you are in an abusive relationship, remember that it is not your fault and that you are not alone. We encourage you to speak up. We also encourage you to read the What To Do If You Are Being Abused article for more information.
The following are some phone numbers and resources available to those seeking help.
- National Child Abuse Helpline: 1-800-422-4453
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7283)
- International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies (International): http://www.hotpeachpages.net/
Arguments in a relationship are normal and even healthy, but remember that a couple should fight fairly so that it solves problems and strengthens relationship. For example, by using “I” statements and positive body language, a partner can turn an argument into a positive learning experience that leads to growth in the relationship. It is important for you and your partner to agree that violence has no place in the relationship. Nevertheless, if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, we encourage you to speak up and seek help. There are many hotlines and support groups that are here for you.
1. Hyde, Janet Shibley, and John D. Delamater. Understanding Human Sexuality. Twelfth ed. New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2014. Print.
2. Zenger, Jack, and Joseph Folkman. “What Great Listeners Actually Do.” Harvard Business Review, 14 July 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
3. Smith, Melinda, M.A, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. “Domestic Violence and Abuse.” Domestic Violence and Abuse: Are You or Someone You Care About in an Abusive Relationship HELPGUIDE.ORG, Jan. 2017. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
4. “25 Ways to Fight Fair.” For Your Marriage. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
5. “Advantages of Effective Communication.” Maximum Advantage Psychology Applied to Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
Last Updated: 6 February 2017.