Couple sitting at dining table learning how to argue effectively

How to Argue Effectively with These Fair Fighting Rules For Couples

Arguing effectively is a communication skill. In my experience as a couples counselor and online couples therapist, couples tend to express how hard it is to communicate with each other because the conversations “always” turn into arguments. But, something that may come as a surprise is that arguments are a form of communication that connects, and can be very productive if done right. In fact, if you know how to handle yourself in potentially difficult moments, you can turn a nasty argument into a productive discussion.

Have you ever had an argument with your partner that feels like it is going in circles? Or have you ever had a big sense of deja-vu when you and your partner argue like you have had the same constant argument ten times over? It is very common for couples to fall into a slump when it comes to communication and they feel like they are not getting through to each other.

Effective Arguing in Relationships

Yes, I am saying there is a right way to argue, and a wrong way. I can teach you how to argue in a relationship effectively.

And you may be saying to yourself, “arguments are never good,” or “if we are arguing, it can’t be right.” Although I agree that excessive, hurtful, and intense arguments can be a sign of discord in your relationship, I also suggest that when done right, arguments (aka, “passionate conversations”) can be an effective and productive way to improve and even enhance your relationship. So, what do I mean by “done right?” Here are three steps that will help bring structure and purpose to your next disagreement with your partner, and help you argue more effectively.

3 Steps to Productive Conflict in Your Relationship

Step 1: Timing

Does it feel like your arguments always seem to happen at the wrong time and in the wrong place? When we have something to say, we want to say it now. And it is important to get your feelings out but think about the timing. To improve communication, be aware of when your partner seems to be more available to talk. And I even suggest trying to get a read of how emotionally available your partner is too.

As intimate partners, we have a great sense of when our partner is in a good mood. It can be helpful to “test the waters” and let them know that you have something important to talk about, just to see if the time is right. I’m not saying you should sit on things or bury your feelings if the time just never seems right. But, we can all agree that trying to have an important conversation with your partner while their favorite sports team is on, or when they walk in the door mentally exhausted from work is very difficult.

Step one of having a productive discussion instead of a hurtful argument is being aware of the timing and trying to be intentional about when you bring up the “hot topics.”

Step 2: Message Received

Remember the old cell phone commercial where people in different locations were shouting, “Can you hear me now??” When a discussion has turned into a fight that is going badly, it can feel like we want to yell that at our partner sometimes. It just feels like they don’t hear us, or they don’t get it.

When couples come to me feeling unheard by their partner it tends to be related to the way they communicate feelings and how their partner receives the message: you send it, they receive it. A great way for couples to ensure they are each heard in conversations and arguments is to check in on what you hear. When your partner is done talking, you can ask, “Is this what you mean?” Or, say, “I hear you saying this… is that right?” This helps to avoid miscommunication. Carefully checking in to make sure you’re understanding your partner gives clarity and the chance to correct each other if your wires ever get crossed.

Step 3: What Now?

The last step to productive discussions is simply saying, “What now?” It is important to have a clear plan going forward after every argument. Think of it like a game plan for your relationship. When you have picked a good time, make sure the message was received correctly and that you’ve both heard each other, say… ”What now?”

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When you shift the conversation away from how you’re feeling, towards what you can each do to solve the problem or improve the situation is what ultimately makes any conflict productive. Saying “what now” allows you to brainstorm ideas, get back on the same page, and actually fix things so that you don’t have to have the same argument over and over again.

Having a clear conclusion to every argument is crucial. When we leave things open or we don’t talk about what we are going to do moving forward, it creates a negative cycle. Sooner or later, you’re going to disappoint each other again. Even if the “what now” comes a couple days later (after you’re both feeling calmer), it is important to make sure you come back together and have a solution-focused conversation.

While arguments can feel challenging in the moment, they’re a great opportunity for you both to get your feelings and needs out in the open. Then, you can use the new information that came from your “passionate conversation” as a roadmap to make positive changes to your relationship that deepen your connection.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

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4 Comments

  1. I would like to set up a consultation regarding fair fighting
    That is the only place my husband and I have issues. It’s become to much and is close to ruining our marriage. We are very interested in coaching focused on fighting

    1. Hi K! I think that’s fantastic. I wish that more couples had the wisdom to get effective help instead of allowing ongoing communicating issues to tank their relationship. And even more fabulous that you’re looking for a skills-based relationship coaching approach that’s going to provide you both with guidance on what to do differently (and accountability to make sure that you do!) If you would like to do your relationship coaching at Growing Self, the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session with one of the expert relationship coaches on our team. Here’s the link to set up your free consultation. (Or you can also just call our office for personal assistance — we always answer!)

      In that first relationship coaching session you’ll get to know them and make sure that you feel comfortable with them, and they’ll also ask you a few questions to get a better understanding of your goals for your work together. Then if it feels like a good fit you can begin meeting with them for relationship coaching sessions online (or in person, if you’re near one of our local Denver therapy offices).

      The first stage of your relationship coaching work will be an “assessment phase” where your coach will be asking you both a bunch of questions and likely getting you to take some questionnaires in order to get more clarity about what, specifically, is creating the communication problems that you’re experiencing. Once the core of the problem is well understood, you’ll then move into an “action phase” of relationship coaching where the focus will shift to teaching you both new skills and strategies to get better results with each other.

      That’s the great thing about coaching: It shifts from being less about “talking about the problems” in sessions to really focusing on what you guys are doing day-to-day outside of your sessions. And then your sessions are more about holding you each accountable, talking about next steps to keep moving forward, etc. It’s very positive.

      THEN there will come a day when things just feel better and the new ways of communicating with each other are just natural habits that are pretty easy to do. The neat thin about this part is that you begin to create a positive cycle in your relationship where you’re both feeling good about each other, both feeling loved and respected, feeling heard and understood, feeling cared for, and then positive communication becomes really just effortless.

      Relationships always require us to be thoughtful and intentional, and yes, we do have to work to create healthy relationships. But I will also say as a married woman of 20+ years (who practices what she preaches as a marriage counselor and relationship coach) …. that when you do this type of work and have a genuinely healthy relationship, it really stops feeling like “work.” It’s just easy to be nice to each other. (Most of the time! haha)

      Wishing you all the very best on this exciting journey of growth together K!

      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  2. I would like to set up a consultation regarding fair fighting
    That is the only place my husband and I have issues. It’s become to much and is close to ruining our marriage. We are very interested in coaching focused on fighting

  3. Hi K! I think that’s fantastic. I wish that more couples had the wisdom to get effective help instead of allowing ongoing communicating issues to tank their relationship. And even more fabulous that you’re looking for a skills-based relationship coaching approach that’s going to provide you both with guidance on what to do differently (and accountability to make sure that you do!) If you would like to do your relationship coaching at Growing Self, the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session with one of the expert relationship coaches on our team. Here’s the link to set up your free consultation. (Or you can also just call our office for personal assistance — we always answer!)

    In that first relationship coaching session you’ll get to know them and make sure that you feel comfortable with them, and they’ll also ask you a few questions to get a better understanding of your goals for your work together. Then if it feels like a good fit you can begin meeting with them for relationship coaching sessions online (or in person, if you’re near one of our local Denver therapy offices).

    The first stage of your relationship coaching work will be an “assessment phase” where your coach will be asking you both a bunch of questions and likely getting you to take some questionnaires in order to get more clarity about what, specifically, is creating the communication problems that you’re experiencing. Once the core of the problem is well understood, you’ll then move into an “action phase” of relationship coaching where the focus will shift to teaching you both new skills and strategies to get better results with each other.

    That’s the great thing about coaching: It shifts from being less about “talking about the problems” in sessions to really focusing on what you guys are doing day-to-day outside of your sessions. And then your sessions are more about holding you each accountable, talking about next steps to keep moving forward, etc. It’s very positive.

    THEN there will come a day when things just feel better and the new ways of communicating with each other are just natural habits that are pretty easy to do. The neat thin about this part is that you begin to create a positive cycle in your relationship where you’re both feeling good about each other, both feeling loved and respected, feeling heard and understood, feeling cared for, and then positive communication becomes really just effortless.

    Relationships always require us to be thoughtful and intentional, and yes, we do have to work to create healthy relationships. But I will also say as a married woman of 20+ years (who practices what she preaches as a marriage counselor and relationship coach) …. that when you do this type of work and have a genuinely healthy relationship, it really stops feeling like “work.” It’s just easy to be nice to each other. (Most of the time! haha)

    Wishing you all the very best on this exciting journey of growth together K!

    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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