Ground Rules for Fights

We all fight

ground rules for fights, relationship advice

All couples have disagreements and conflict. It is part of the reality of two adults sharing lives together. If a couple comes to see me and says that they don't have any conflict, I worry about the state of their relationship - if they are growing distant from each other.


Couples need to have space to sort out problems and grievances that is in line with supporting and strengthening the relationship. 


What follows is what I like to tell couples about conflict.

Ground Rules

  1. Cool down periods are great. If you need time to process what has just been said or if you are feeling so overwhelmed that you need to get out of the room right away, that is great, just inform your partner. This doesn't mean you can walk out in the middle of a conversation and leave the house and leave your spouse wondering where you are. This means that you say, "I need a few minutes to cool down." You let your partner know that you need 20 minutes or that you would like to resume the discussion later on that day. Whatever it is, set a time and honour your time commitment. As the partner, allow your partner to have a cool down as soon as it is requested.
    1. Use your cool down wisely. Do something that soothes you and calms you down.
    2. Try to leave the argument alone rather than think about good come-backs or other points to reiterate.
  2. No name calling. 
  3. Agree on a code word that either of you can use if you feel that the argument is getting out of control. Once the code word is used, both parties back off, maybe take a 20 minute break and then return to the discussion.
  4. Keep the big stuff out of earshot from the kids. This doesn't mean that you can't have any disagreements or spats in front of your kids, it just means that you save the very heated discussions for a time when the kids are asleep or out of the house.
  5. If you have a fight in front of your kids, it is really important for your kids to see you resolve the fight. They learn that fighting and being angry leads to forgiveness and healing.
  6. Don't threaten to break up (or make any threats) during a conflict. It is totally fair to feel angry, hurt, frustrated and many other feelings during a fight. But, don't threaten to break up with your partner in the heat of the moment. If you really do want or need to have a discussion about breaking up, do so after things have settled down and not during the fight.
  7. Work towards hearing each other's point of view and feelings rather than trying to convince your partner that you are correct.

After the Fight

Repair is really important in relationships. According to Dr. Gottman, repair after a fight is one of the most important things that "master" couples do to maintain their relationship and get back to feeling better. 


Repair means that you come back several hours or a day later and apologize. It doesn't matter so much what the apology looks like (because it may be a gesture or a hug) so long as it is done. As the receiving partner, accept the repair attempt.


If these ground rules are hard to follow in your relationship, consider coming to a couple's therapist to help moderate and communicate more effectively.

*photo from by smarnad

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