Guest Post: Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.on Fighting Fair

Today we're going to hear from Phyliss Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D., about fighting fair.  You can never have enough tips on this topic, am I right?

So before you put on your boxing gloves, take a moment to read this very helpful article, and visit their website and blog located at and, respectively.

5 Tips on How Couples can Fight Fair

By Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph. D.

All couples get angry and argue - so know that you're not alone. But remember when resolving conflict to keep your words sweet - you may have to eat them.

In the middle of an argument you can minimize emotional overload by only focusing on the issue at hand. And try not to get defensive or blame your partner. Relationship research indicates that one of the most effective ways to control the outcome of a disagreement is to assume some personal responsibility and, in the end, be willing to compromise. Fights don't have as much fallout if you and your partner have accumulated a shared positive reserve in your emotional bank account - that is, the more positive interactions and feelings, the less damage.

It seemed to Sybil that her parents were always mad at each other. She wanted them to get a divorce but they stayed together and just kept on fighting. She vowed that, if she ever married, it would be different. "I couldn’t wait to move out. Over the years I broke off several relationships that could have worked, but I was too afraid of ending up like my parents. When I was 42, after years of therapy, I finally felt secure enough to take the plunge. Every day, for the past seven years, I make a conscious effort to focus on the positives in my marriage. And if a fight is inevitable, I try to fight fair."
Feeling flooded or overcome by emotion can lead to the 'fight or flight' response. In a relationship, this process is activated by high tensions and poor communication. It becomes difficult for both of you to listen, think clearly and resolve disagreements. If you stay and 'fight' you release pent up feelings but will likely make comments you'll later regret. This kind of release or catharsis can have detrimental and long ranging effects. Even though using 'flight' as a defense is self-protective and may be less emotionally damaging, in the end it resolves nothing. 

If you develop techniques to soothe yourself and help your partner calm down, that can minimize the buildup of negative feelings and resentments. You know yourself best, so incorporate the following strategies that work for you and your relationship:

1.    Agree to stop arguing and postpone a difficult conversation until you're both not feeling so upset. Or make a mutual decision to step away and put some distance between you and the situation. Take a short break and wait until you both are settled enough to listen to each other.

2.    While you're unwinding, try on thoughts that are more constructive - for example, his anger isn’t all about me; we really do love each other; she's under a lot of pressure at work; this too shall pass; I'm upset now but I know we’re right for each other.

3.    Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose. Hold your breath for five seconds and release it through your mouth. Repeat this several times, and brush away any negative feelings. Notice how focusing only on your breathing can make you feel more relaxed.

4.    Throw yourself into an activity that gives you immediate release and stay there for a while - call a friend and share how you're feeling, take a run in the park or listen to music that stirs your soul.

5.    Distraction can be powerful, no matter which form best suits your relationship. Try humor, be playful or turn the controversy into a debate. Through these kinds of adaptive defenses, you and your partner will be able to enjoy deeper and more meaningful conversations. 

Familiarize yourself with these strategies so they're accessible when you need them most. Having tools at your disposal and practicing them can make a difference in the outcome of your disagreements. As Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, "What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are but how you deal with incompatibility."     

© Her Mentor Center, 2008
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. and Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are family relationship experts who publish a free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones. Whether you're coping with acting out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, we have solutions for you. Visit our website,, and blog,, for practical tips about parents growing older and children growing up.

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So, how do you effectively deal with conflict?  Do you have any other techniques that you and your partner use?  Email me at:


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