How to fight fairly

Fair fighting is a way to resolve conflict effectively.

Is there a way to fight fairly? Yes, there is! Resolving conflicts with positive communication can bring people closer together and make relationships stronger. Below is one way you can begin to learn how to deal with conflict fairly, as well as teach those close to you how to fight fair. This works best in close relationships, such as those involving parents, partners, spouses, children, other family members or roommates. Begin by setting some time to explain conflict resolution to everyone in the household. Each person needs to be willing to follow the steps and a chance to practice.

  • Start with an agreement - Agree that conflicts exist in order to reach common ground at the end of the disagreement. Therefore, trust, love, respect, caring and kindness are key elements in every disagreement.
  • Stop and think - The next time you find yourself arguing with someone close to you, stop and think about your anger threshold, that point at which you know you are losing it. This is the point at which you can most effectively make changes. At lower levels of frustration, we are all capable of some self-control.
  • Code word - Choose a code word for anger thresholds. All household members must agree to respect the code word. You can call the code word yourself, if your own anger has reached your threshold or somebody else can call the code word, if they see anger rising in you or in someone else. Give everyone a chance to practice using the code word. For example, “I am calling a time out”.
  • Calm down - When someone calls the code, everyone must stop talking and moving for one minute. During that one minute, everyone should try to relax physically and think calming thoughts. Be a model of calm.
  • Come back and try again - Once everyone is calm, discuss the problem using “I statements”. At the end of one minute, someone can ask, “Are we calm enough to talk?” If everyone answers “yes,” you can start to work on a solution together. You may decide that more time is needed to calm down. If that is the case, each person needs to go to a separate place for some quiet time.
  • Be specific - Individuals need to be specific about what is bothering you. Accept statements and try to understand them for what they mean.
  • Keep the issue in the present - Do not bring up previous incidences, pervious fights, actions, inactions or behavior which have nothing to do with the topic of the current fight. No one can fix an always or never situation such as,“you have always been stubborn” or “you never listen to me.”
  • Use respectful language - No name calling, swearing, insults, threats or intimidation. This creates an atmosphere of distrust, more anger and vulnerability.
  • Use calm voice - No raising your voice and dominating the conversation. Do not attempt to control by out-shouting or making more noise to drive home a point.
  • Name it to tame it - Always acknowledge the other’s basic feelings. For example, “I understand you are feeling frustrated right now, and I am glad you shared that.”

In the end of a fight or conflict, the ultimate goals is for individuals involved to come away feeling respected, understood and committed to change some behavior that may be irritating or difficult for another to accept. Compromise is always a win-win resolution to conflict.

With some or all of these guidelines in place, conflicts will become less destructive and with more constructive expression of anger.

Michigan State University Extension offers RELAX: Alternative to Anger throughout the state as well as other great education programming for parents, caregivers and adults working with teens. Go to for more information.

Did you find this article useful?