Rules for Fair Fighting: How to Keep Your Head in the Middle of a Heated Argument

You’re seeing red. You’re in the middle of a heated argument with your spouse when the gloves come off:

  • Do things get ugly?
  • Are you screaming your head off?
  • Does the argument veer off the original topic until you’ve covered just about everything you’ve ever been upset about?
  • Do you follow your partner around the house because you just have to finish the discussion now?
  • Do you bring up the things you know will most hurt your partner?
  • Are you so angry that you forget the kids are within earshot OR right there witnessing the whole thing?

Our feelings ARE intense, particularly in the middle of an argument. Anger seems to take over, compelling us to do and say things we’d never say otherwise. When our emotions are in full swing it’s almost as if we can’t think straight. In fact, this isn’t far from the truth. When emotions fire from the most primitive part of our brain, the thinking functions of our logical neo-cortex are compromised. We go into fight or flight mode. The rational part of our brain no longer works in its full capacity and our cognitive skills aren’t fully functional.

Sometimes the rational side does peek through while all this is going on, even if it’s a fleeting thought such as:

  • I’m acting like a 3 year old!
  • I’ve lost control of myself.
  • What were we originally arguing about?
  • If anyone else knew I get like this, they’d be shocked.

It’s important to know that all partners get angry with each other at times. Anger is an intense emotion that is okay to feel, just like all of our emotions. However, we need to make a distinction between feeling anger and acting on it. All feelings are okay, but not all actions are.

In moments of anger, the adult in you must stop the three year-old in you from acting out. Since you want things to be different in your relationship, you must act differently. You must deliberately choose what to do and say, even when you’re enraged.

This is why we all need ground rules around fighting. This is even more important if you grew up seeing abusive or violent arguing. Here are the rules for fair fighting:

  • Don’t name call or curse. Talk about your anger directly. Say, “I’m enraged at you right now!”
  • Don’t leave or hang up abruptly.  Exit like an adult with, “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m too angry. I’ll be back in (give a time.)”
  • Don’t chase your partner around the house. Give him/her the space needed and talk about it later when you’re both calmer.
  • Don’t bring up all the other incidents you’re still upset about. Learn to say, “That’s a different topic for another discussion.”
  • Don’t let things get physical. Stay in control of your body and if that feels too hard to do, get yourself into anger management treatment.

And most importantly:

  • Start couples counseling so  you can both learn to discuss issues calmly.

Next time you’re in an argument, choose one rule to adhere to. You NEED to control yourself. That means finding FAIR ways to handle any anger between you and your partner. Remember: if you want your relationship to get better, you must begin to do things differently.

To learn more, schedule an appointment here at Couples Therapy Center. Call 908-246-3074, email or go to


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