Fighting Fair

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

Holding hands

Engaging in an interpersonal relationship means the coming together of different values, needs and wants. This can be an exceptional experience as well as a stressful and challenging experience. When things are going well, it is an opportunity for sharing, for collaboration and for new exciting adventures. However, when things are not good, it can be a time of conflict and tension. It is essential to understand this can be a typical experience where conflict can arise.

However, conflict can have devastating impacts on the relationship and individuals mental health. Continued and prolonged conflict can be a dis-empowering experience and impact on the connection with one another as well as your own connection with self. It becomes vital to understand that if conflict needs to arise, then being able to have boundaries in place to support the protection of yourself and the relationship become essential. Also, if a conflict occurs, then being about to have rules that support a clear outcome to can reduce the chances of future disputes.

Couple dancing

One approach that can be used in this situation is the development of fighting fair rules. These rules are developed in collaboration with both people to have clear parameters of what can occur and what "can't" occur in a fight. They need to be boundaries that both people can agree on and accept as a natural component to their relationship.

I would like to share an example, this is a real example that occurred in a relationship to demonstrate the importance of boundaries.

Case Study

Note: Names changed to protect the couples identify

Jess was a 34 year of woman who has been married for 7 years to her husband, Jack. They had been experiencing an increase in conflict with one another over the past two years. Over the two years, the fights had gone from arguments centred around significant life events that on average would occur every couple of weeks to frightening every other week about everyday occurrences. One week they found themselves fighting every day, and during those fights, they noticed that they had resorted to name-calling, belittlement and threats.

This is a prime example of how conflict without boundaries, objectives and outcomes can escalate to a point where conflict becomes a normal part of the relationship. When this occurs, it brings about other consequences including mental fatigue, dis empowerment, distance in the relationship, hurt and fear.

For Jess and Jack after a few sessions of couple counselling, the triggers were identified, and the cycle of anger was recognised. Once this had occurred, they both collaborated in the development of "fighting fair rules". Some of these rules may seem simple, but it was in these rules that for the first time in two years, they were able to fight in a respectful manner that brought about resolve.


Example of the rules:

  1. No name-calling

  2. Identify the topic of the fight and stick to that one issue

  3. No past issues can be used if not related to this issue

  4. No frightening in intimate areas such as the bedroom

  5. No arguments after 7 pm

  6. Each person should have ample time to express themselves using "I" statements.

  7. No fight should last longer than 45 minutes.

  8. If the fight is going in cycles or escalated beyond the comfort level of each party, then a 20 minutes break is called.

  9. After the fight, a clear solution is reiterated After the fight, one gentle action is planned for each other.

These are just some examples that can be used, and the rules should be tailored to the couples needs. In Jess and Jack's situation, they designed these rules and got them printed were both signed the document and hung them up in a common area as a continued reminder.

I want to be clear these are just a tool, and like any tool, they do have limitations, and other essential factors need to also, be considered including:

  • Communication styles used in the relationship,

  • Triggers causing conflict,

  • values within the relationship,

  • Past hurt,

  • Current roles in the relationship,

  • Conflict in the individual needs of both individual and so on.

So it is also helpful to ensure that explicit goals for the relationship are determined and that each person feels heard and valued. Another critical factor is that deep-rooted issues need to be acknowledged and dealt with as soon as possible.

This is where couples counselling can be an option to support the exploration of these areas in a safe and controlled environment.

For more support and for any questions you might have, feel free to contact Ipswich Counselling at:



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