Conflict is a natural occurrence in life. Conflict allows individuals to have their thoughts, feelings and opinions heard, clear the air, resolve differences, and develop a plan to move forward if these situations are handled in a healthy and productive manner. To preserve relationships it is important to know not how to avoid conflict, but how to fight fair. There are some basic strategies people can use to keep a conflict from devolving into an unproductive fight. 

Strategy 1: Cool Downs & Time Outs (A “time out” or a “cool down” is simply a tool to use to prevent you from doing or saying abusive things that you know you will regret later.)

  • Talk to those in your life about cool downs right away. Let them know that sometimes when you’re together it may be necessary for you to take a time out or cool down in order to relax. Let them know that when you come back, you will agree on a time either later that day or the next day to discuss the issue again. They may benefit from doing the same thing.
  • Take a time out or cool down every time you think your anger is starting to climb by recognizing your physical and emotional cues and leave the situation (place or person).
  • Do not swear, raise your voice, threaten, or use any intimidating behavior.
  • Go somewhere and try to relax and think positively about yourself. It may help to walk, jog, or do deep breathing to get some tension out. 
  • When you come back, decide together on a good time for discussion of the issue. Maybe it is a good idea to talk it over with a third-party present, someone you both trust. Sometimes after a time out you may both decide that the issue wasn’t worth discussing in the first place, and you may mutually decide to drop it. If you decide to discuss the issue and you recognize the cues again: TAKE A TIME OUT!

Strategy 2: Remember to use respectful communication and conflict resolution

  • Each person has right to say what they want to say, but cannot do it in an abusive way, using intimidating or harsh language.
  • In order for communication to be effective, both parties must listen to what the other person is saying and not try to merely convince the other of their position.
  • Good communication requires negotiation and compromise. If somebody has to win the argument then somebody else has to lose it, and you’ve lost good communication.
  • No single issue is as important as your overall goal of remaining non-violent and non-abusive in your relationship.

Strategy 3: Stick to established guidelines

  • Fight by mutual consent: Don’t insist on a fight at a time when one of you can’t handle this type of strain. A good fight demands two ready participants.
  • Stick to the present: Don’t dredge up past mistakes and faults about which you can do nothing.
  • Stick to the subject: Limit this fight to this subject. Don’t throw every other problem into it; take them at a different time.
  • Don’t hit below the belt: In your lives together you discover each other’s sensitive areas. Don’t throw them at each other.
  • Don’t quit; work it out: Bring the fight to a mutual conclusion. Otherwise, it will just recur again and again.
  • Respect crying: It is a valid response to how we feel, but don’t let crying sidetrack you. It is a response for men as well as women.
  • No violence: Physical violence violates all of the above rules for fighting by mutual consent.

Strategy 4: Be mindful of your word choices

Words to Avoid:                                                                        Use These:

“You never”                                                                            “I’m sorry”

“I told you so”                                                                         “I need you”

“You always”                                                                          “Please help me”

“I don’t want to discuss it”                                                      “I did wrong”

“When will you ever learn?”                                                   “Thank you”

“How many times do I have to tell you?”                               “I love you”

If we each approach conflict openly, honestly, and non-defensively it can be a meaningful part of relationships. If the sole purpose of engaging in a conflict is to “win” that means someone else has to “lose.” Any time win/lose dynamics are set up in a relationship it builds resentment and is damaging. Using the above strategies can alternatively crate a win/win paradigm. Always remember a fight between people has the purpose of clearing the air and expressing deep feelings in order to build a stronger relationship or solve a problem.