Subscriber OnlyLife & Style

‘Fighting to win at all costs will erode a relationship’: How to fight fair

The secret to interpersonal harmony is listening, being content not to win all the time and focusing clearly on solutions

Listen and repeat

No matter what your beef is with the other person, listening is the first rule of fighting fair. “Listen to your partner, colleague or neighbour’s point of view. Pay attention to their words and to their feelings too,” says Monica Jackman, an Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy-accredited counsellor. That’s not easy if there has been a quarrel and you are upset. Listening means not planning your rebuttal while the other person is talking. When they have stopped talking, check for clarity. “Repeat back what they have said to you to check you have understood what they meant.”

Better understanding where the other person is coming from can dispel preconceived ideas and diffuse anger and upset. “We can assume this or that is happening and it might not be the case at all,” says Jackman.

Use ‘I’ statements

So they didn’t empty the dishwasher again, they never do it; and it’s totally because they don’t respect you. Instead of taking this tack with a partner, try using “I” statements instead, says Jackman. These are far less inflammatory. You don’t really know why the other person did what they did. What you do know is how it makes you feel. “Describe your own feelings and how you are affected by the other person’s words and actions. You could say, ‘I feel hurt by that, I feel upset when that happens,’” says Jackman.

Stick to the issue at hand too. “If you are arguing about something in the present moment but you are bringing old stuff into it, it becomes very complicated. Leave the past in the past.”


Winner alright

Is it more important to win all the arguments or to be in a happy relationship? “Most people, if they really think about it, they don’t want to hurt their partner, they don’t want to be unhappy or have tension in a relationship the whole time,” says Jackman. Fighting to win at all costs will erode a relationship. If you are hellbent on winning every time, this may be something that stems from your upbringing and it is worth exploring separately with a counsellor, she says.

Expressing frequent criticism or contempt for someone isn’t good either says Jackman. “Listen to yourself and if you hear yourself doing this, try to remember what it is you love about this person.”


No matter what the relationship, the best way to stop tension building is to have regular check-ins. Invite that friend, colleague or neighbour for coffee, or plan a date night with your significant other. Find out what is going on for them. “If someone has been irritable or snapped at you, there may be another reason they are feeling under pressure,” says Jackman.

It’s not personal

If you have a disagreement with a colleague, remind yourself that it’s just a job. “People can be so engaged with their work, they are there for eight hours or longer and it is such an important part of their lives, sometimes they forget that it is just work and it’s not personal,” says Jackman. “Yes, have that difficult conversation, but be respectful. Try not to dismiss the other person’s point of view and don’t assume you are right. Again, use ‘I’ statements and own your feelings.” Explore all avenues before going to a mediator or a solicitor, she advises, because doing so can make the workplace even more stressful. Of course, if there is something going on in the workplace that is damaging to your mental health, you need to act.

Solution focus

Keep talking until you can at least agree what the problem is – define the conflict that is the issue, says Jackman. Then take turns throwing out some solutions – perhaps if one person does the bins, the other can empty the dishwasher? Agree some solutions and see how that works. Of course, if you find yourself having the same fight ad nauseam, it might be time to get help from a counsellor.…

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance