A couple has a heated discussion at a table representing fair fighting rules and how to fight fair in relationships

Conflict is a necessary and even healthy part of every close relationship. But the way that you manage conflict with your partner can have a big impact on the relationship. When done correctly, conflict can propel your relationship forward, bring you closer together, and address minor issues before they turn into big problems. But when not handled well, conflict can be destructive to relationships and can lead to their downfall. 

As a couples counselor and relationship coach, I’ve seen just about every variety of conflict and I’ve seen how couples handle it well, or not so well. I created this article so you could learn about what healthy conflict looks like, and the “fair fighting rules” for couples that will help you use conflict as a positive growth experience for you and your partner

Healthy Conflict: A Relationship’s Compass

First, it’s important to understand how conflict can be healthy and beneficial. Conflict is not something to be avoided — in fact, avoiding conflict can cause big problems. Healthy conflict is an opportunity to smooth out rough spots and create a stronger relationship with your partner. 

Here are a few of the ways that conflict can benefit your relationship:

  1. Deepening Understanding

Healthy conflict helps you learn more about each other’s needs, hopes, and desires. When you engage in open, honest, and vulnerable conversations during times of conflict, you gain insights into your partner’s inner world. This leads to greater empathy and a more meaningful connection.

  1. Closeness Through Conflict

Conflict does not have to drive you apart. In fact, healthy conflict can bring couples closer together. Every relationship goes through different stages, and conflict is a natural part of this journey. When you and your partner experience difficulties, work through them, and emerge stronger, you develop a shared history that binds you together. 

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3. Strengthening Trust and Intimacy

Healthy conflict fosters trust and intimacy. It teaches you that it’s safe to be authentic with each other, and that you can do so while still being respected, accepted, and loved. In this environment, trust and intimacy can flourish.

4. Building a Partnership

Healthy conflict promotes a shift from an “us vs. them” mindset to a “we” mindset. Instead of working against your partner, you learn to work with them as a team. You tackle issues collaboratively, realizing that your partner’s happiness is interwoven with your own. This shift in perspective can help you build a resilient partnership.

5. Addressing Small Problems Early:

Healthy conflict acts as an early warning system for larger issues. By addressing minor concerns when they arise, you prevent them from snowballing into major problems. This approach helps maintain balance and harmony in the relationship.

The Pitfalls of Avoiding Conflict

While healthy conflict is crucial for relationship growth, avoiding conflict can lead to significant issues. Some couples believe that not fighting is a sign of a strong relationship. However, suppressing issues can result in several problems:

  1. Conflict Buildup

Couples who avoid confrontation often accumulate unresolved issues. What may start as minor annoyances can escalate into deep-seated resentments over time. The reluctance to address problems gradually disengages partners emotionally and sexually.

  1. Parallel Lives

Avoiding conflict can lead to partners building parallel lives rather than a shared one. With unspoken issues lurking in the background, couples may detach emotionally, pursuing separate interests and paths. They also become more vulnerable to sexual and emotional infidelity.

  1. Overwhelming Unresolved Issues

Unaddressed problems will eventually feel too daunting and overwhelming to resolve. These unresolved issues become barriers to meaningful communication and emotional connection because we avoid having conversations for fear they will lead to more discord in te relationship.

Differences Between Healthy and Unhealthy Conflict

So, how can you tell if the conflict in your relationship is healthy? 

Healthy Conflict:

  • Focuses on understanding your partner’s perspective and solving the issue.
  • Concentrates on the specific behavior causing distress, not one partner’s character. 
  • Acknowledges that disagreement is a normal aspect of any partnership.
  • Recognizes growth opportunities for both partners.

Unhealthy Conflict:

  • Takes an “I’m right, and my partner is wrong” stance.
  • Targets the essence of a person rather than their behavior, leading to personal attacks.
  • Views disagreements as something wrong with the relationship.
  • Blames one partner while absolving the other of any responsibility for the conflict.

How to Fight Fair in a Relationship

To ensure conflict remains productive, healthy, and safe in your relationship, consider the following fair fighting rules for couples: 

  1. No Name Calling or Disrespect: Maintain respectful communication even during disagreements. Differing opinions are normal, and addressing them with empathy and kindness can lead to effective resolution.
  1. No Threats to Leave the Relationship: Threatening to leave when upset can undermine your partner’s trust. Reassurance that you’ll stand by each other during challenging times fosters security and stability. This is not the time to threaten your partner with moving out or divorcing.
  1. Agree to Take Breaks When Needed: Understand that some conflicts may not be resolved in one sitting. Taking breaks and allowing space for emotional recalibration can prevent conflicts from escalating further. Make plans to circle back and continue the conversation after you have each had time to regulate your emotions and consider your partners perspective.
  1. Recognize Personal Triggers: Awareness of your triggers and past experiences as well as your partner’s is vital. Recognizing why a particular issue affects you deeply, and learning to separate that from the current situation can lead to more effective decisions during conflicts.
  1. Apologize Easily and Often: Apologizing doesn’t necessarily imply fault. It demonstrates regret for causing harm or discomfort. Couples who are willing to apologize show greater skill in resolving differences and are less likely to harbor resentment.

Breaking Out of Unhealthy Conflict Patterns

If you and your partner are caught in an unhealthy conflict pattern, the first step is to acknowledge the issue. Understand that you have an opportunity for growth and positive change in your relationship together. Often, working with a relationship coach can help you build healthier communication, so that you and your partner can begin to fight fair and use conflict to strengthen your connection.

If you would like to do this valuable work with me, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Kanya D., M.A., LMFT

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