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10 Steps for Arguing Instead of Fighting

A ten-step plan for discussing issues without a meltdown.

In my previous blog post, "7 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Relationship", the second key is "Arguing, Not Fighting".

Healthy couples don't fight - they argue. There's a big difference.


  • Raising voices
  • Bringing up the past
  • Name-calling
  • Problem-focused


  • Calm voices
  • Mutual respect
  • Focused on one issue
  • Solution-focused

So how do you move from fighting to arguing?

1. Pick a time each week to talk.

Make it a time after the kids are in bed, and the house is generally pretty quiet. You will need 30 minutes.

2. Turn off your phone, the television, or any other distractions.

You can't discuss an issue while you are playing Angry Birds. Well, not effectively, anyway.

3. You or your partner presents a topic.

Switch off who gets to pick the topic. Your turn one week, your partner's turn the next week, and so on. Pick a current topic, and start with an issue that's not as "heavy" as others. For example, the pileup of dirty dishes in the sink.

4. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

The person who picked the topics begins speaking. Don't interrupting your partner, even if you think he or she is way off base or you feel they misinterpreted a situation.

5. Hold hands.

When you hold hands with your partner while discussing a concern, it emphasizes the strong bond between the two of you.

6. Phrase your concern in an "I feel" sentence.

"When the dishes aren't put in the dishwasher after dinner, I feel frustrated because I like having a clean kitchen before we go to bed."

7. Avoid using "always" and "never". Rarely do people always or never do a behavior. Saying those words automatically puts your partner on the defensive.

8. Now state your solution.

"I think we should trade off dishwasher duty. One day on, one day off."

9. Time's up. Set the timer for 15 minutes.

Now it's the other person's turn to give their feelings on the topic using an "I feel" sentence and then present a solution. Try to build on your partner's solution. There's a rule in improv - use "Yes, and...". "One day on, one day off works for me. Maybe we can get the kids to pitch in as well."

10. When the timer goes off, you're done.

After 30 minutes, you're done. Even if you didn't come up with a solution, you are starting open communication. Eventually you will get to the point where you can talk about bigger issues.

An additional step:

Step away if you are getting angry. If you feel like you are going to say something you don't mean, excuse yourself, and tell your partner you are taking a 10-minute break. It's important you tell your partner when you are coming back. Otherwise, it can trigger feelings of abandonment.

And when all else fails, argue naked.

Instructions for arguing (or what I call "fair fighting" can be found in one of my books, 10 Simple Solutions for Adult ADD.

Copyright 2011 Sarkis Media LLC