How to Fight the Good Fight Part I: Bad Fights, Good Practices

Fourth post in the Relationship as a Team Series

A good team knows how to effectively navigate the vital seas of conflict.

Learning how to fight well may be the hardest part of truly becoming a team.

Most of us have a convoluted relationship to conflict. If we’re not conflict avoidant, we’re conflict prone. One of the first steps to finding balance, is to be able to tell the difference between a good fight and a bad one, and act accordingly.

“Bad” or destructive fights:

  • Often erupt out of tense situations
  • Are launched / experienced as an attack
  • Globalize, with words like “You Never,” “You Always”
  • Thrive on reactivity and raised voices
  • Are usually started unconsciously, to help one partner manage a bad feeling
  • Are difficult to recover from

Good fights:

  • Are about real needs and differences
  • Are an attempt to get something to work even better
  • Are about issues connected to a larger vision i.e., “Why the family really does need to get a new car . . .”
  • Raised voices used only when absolutely needed to make a point
  • Good fights are negotiations that eventually end with both partners feeling satisfied

Bad fights lead nowhere, because at bottom they are not really about the relationship — the relationship just happens to be the arena in which internal discomfort is played out.

We need to master the difference between good fights and bad ones. Share on X Through practice and diligence, you can learn on your own how to prevent or circumvent these fights.

Below are team-based prevention tools and in-the-middle exit strategies from destructive fights.

1)OUT THE DIFFERENCES TOGETHER: At an appropriate time or in a relationship maintenance conversation, engage a rich discussion with your partner about fights you’ve had have that took you somewhere and fights that didn’t. Get specific about the differences. This will make regrouping as a team in the middle of an unhealthy spat much easier.

2) ESTABLISH GROUND RULES: Go over specific ground rules for fighting. There are certain ground rules that should be on everybody’s list:

  • No name calling
  • No in-fight sarcasm
  • No yelling

Add your own, and lay out the consequences for trespasses clearly; e.g. “If you at any point call me an A-hole, I’m going to leave the room“; “If you bring up XYZ again, I will shut down.” Hopefully, a SIGNAL can help you before those trespasses happen.

3) CHOOSE A SIGNAL: During peacetime, choose a signal that you will use when you feel things start to go off in a “bad fight” direction. A waving “stop!” or a “talk-to-the-hand” gesture will do. I always encourage it to be playful or funny. Hey, get a sign, like the couple above!

Then when you actually have a fight, you each have to:

4)REFEREE & REGROUP: When players break the rules in a boxing ring, the referee steps in and sends them back to their corners. You can each lead in the relationship by playing referee. Recognizing when you are sliding into a bad fight and using the signal is like blowing the whistle. Both parties must heed its call.

After a signal appears, you have to find a way to let go of the power struggle and retreat. Take a minute apart or in silence and regroup. Ask yourself: What are we actually fighting about? What, if anything, do I need to communicate across the lines (and don’t forget to consider an apology first)? What I can let go of? What, if anything, do I need to deal with on my own?

Many bouts of wayward fighting can be avoided if couples cultivate what I call their Inner Google Translator. Stayed tuned and look for it in next week’s post: How to Fight the Good Fight, part II: Translate.

Do you resonate? How do you lead in relationship? Leadership skills can help reduce drama and increase fun, creativity and satisfaction in our relationships. Want to learn how to stand in your authority in intimacy? Don’t miss your chance, in the Intimate Authority Online Course,  starting May, 18 2015!

2 responses to “How to Fight the Good Fight Part I: Bad Fights, Good Practices”

  1. Lise says:

    I could not agree with this post more!!!!

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