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When You Fight Fairly, but Your Partner Doesn’t

Why Fighting With Your Spouse Might Save Your MarriageSo you’ve scoured the Internet, read a bunch of self-help books, and even seen a therapist to help you learn how to communicate effectively with your partner. Eventually you come to the conclusion that no matter how fairly you fight with your partner, he or she just doesn’t fight fairly in return.

It’s hard to want to fight fairly with your partner when he or she responds with defensiveness, criticism, contempt or stonewalling. I’d like to start by saying that many people find it hard to communicate fairly with their partner if their partner is difficult to communicate with. Why bother fighting fairly when your partner isn’t?

Well, simply put, practicing communicating effectively says something about you. It isn’t about fighting fairly only when your partner does the same. Fighting fairly is a personal decision that isn’t contingent on others. So, if you are supposed to fight fairly regardless of whether your partner does, what does that mean for your relationship?

Many relationships have one partner who communicates poorly and fights unfairly. Many times that partner may not want to change how they fight or communicate, and in those instances, you have some choices. Often it is with these choices that the healthy communicator feels another level of unjustness, because in the end it may be that you have to make choices you don’t want to make or learn to accept your partner’s way of communicating.

If your partner refuses to fight fairly and communicate effectively, then set boundaries. Decide what you are and are not willing to have happen to you in your relationship with regard to fighting and communicating.

You must enforce these boundaries in order for them to be effective. If you feel that you cannot be in a relationship that is filled with criticism and contempt, laying this out for your partner and asking for help in working on this mutually will help hold you both accountable for fighting fairly. If your partner declines, then you must make another decision. Either follow through on your boundary and leave a partnership where your partner does not want to live within your boundary, or change your expectations for how your partner communicates with you.

Often this is where the second layer of anger comes in. Why do I have to make these choices? Why won’t he or she just change?

It comes down to this: if your partner has refused to listen to your boundary of practicing healthy communicating with you, he or she has made his or her choice. It is naturally your turn to decide how you live with this. Do you accept things as they are?

There may be many other positive qualities your partner has that you feel outweigh his or her fighting style. Acceptance is then key (and a whole other layer of work on your end to accomplish). If this is something you cannot accept, the decision lies within you. You may choose to continue the relationship feeling unhappy about how your partner communicates (which may lead to resentment). Or you may choose to leave the relationship.

Have you had a partner who wasn’t a fair fighter/communicator? What did you do?

When You Fight Fairly, but Your Partner Doesn’t


Maureen Werrbach, MA, LCPC

Maureen Werrbach, LCPC, is a psychotherapist and owner of Urban Wellness, a group practice in Chicago, IL. www.urbanwellnesscounseling.com.


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APA Reference
Werrbach, M. (2018). When You Fight Fairly, but Your Partner Doesn’t. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-you-fight-fairly-but-your-partner-doesnt/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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