December 3, 2021

How to Fight in an Intimate Relationship, Therapist’s Guide

Written by Sara Lane

Posted in Relationships, Couples, Marriage and with tags: conflict

How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

You can’t have a relationship without arguments.

We wish we could, but we cannot. So, we have to figure out how to fight in an intimate relationship because occasional disagreement is part of having any contact with another human being.

No matter how balanced and loving your relationship is, you won’t see eye to eye on everything, and that’s okay! Variety is the spice of life, and having a partner that challenges your perspective is not a bad thing at all.

What we’d like to do is give you and your partner all the tools to fight like you guys are “relationship goals,” and no one leaves feeling hurt or dismissed.

In this post, we will cover:

  • Fighting in Intimate Relationships
  • How to Fight in Your Intimate Relationship
  • Fighting About Money
  • Why Money is One of the Biggest Reasons Couples Fight
  • How to Stop Fighting Over Money
  • Fight Fairly in Your Intimate Relationship


Fighting is Normal in an Intimate Relationship

When we say “fighting,” we don’t mean throwing objects or using violence. In this context, the word is used loosely.

Fighting refers to any conversation that could be considered a tiff, a disagreement, or a quarrel.

In an intimate relationship or partnership, that person is everything. They are your lover, your best friend, your backup crew, and your support team. It’s a lot.

Modern love has us rely on our partners in ways no other generation has ever seen before, which means we are all learning this new way. Author and psychotherapist Ester Perel said it perfectly in her 2013 TED Talk. “So, we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide.”

Back in the day, you would have bumped heads with someone in your village. Today, your person is the village.

“Relationship goals” is a fib that social media invented to keep you scrolling.

In an intimate relationship, in this day and age, there is a lot involved, which means that debates, discussions, and disagreements will happen. It’s normal, and it’s okay.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide


How to Fight in an Intimate Relationship, 8 Steps

So, if we are going to fight, how do we do it well? How do we have these disagreements and leave everyone feeling heard and understood? Start here.


1. Set the Stage on Neutral Ground

When you know that you need to have a tough conversation with someone you love, it’s important to be mindful of the importance of the setting.

Not every environment is neutral. This can create an imbalance of power or make the argument more contentious from the start.

If you feel an argument boiling just under the surface, trying to find a space that’s safe and balanced for both of you can draw the conflict onto an even playing field. Arguing in a space that’s more yours than your partner can put your partner on the defensive.

Avoid emotionally charged rooms like the bedroom. If you know in advance that you have to discuss something that may lead to a fight, choose a setting that may limit your ability to get carried away, like your car or a public place.

But in the case of serious issues, you may want to have the guidance of a therapist.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

2. Know Your Own Feelings

Being in touch with your own feelings brings a sense of clarity and calmness to a disagreement.

Even if you’re still frustrated after identifying your emotions, you’ll be better able to address the specific issues at hand rather than allowing your anger to dictate where your argument goes. 

Also, don’t try to read each other’s minds. When you’re tired, hungry, or stressed, little things are more likely to set you off.

Trying to extend your patience during an argument instead of assuming the worst regarding your partner’s intentions helps make fighting fairer.

3. Make Sure Both of You Are in the Right Frame of Mind

Part of fighting fair is deciding to postpone the argument when one of the participants is at a disadvantage.

If your spouse is really tired or under a lot of stress from work, that’s not a good circumstance to have a rational discussion. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to have a fight if either or both of you have been drinking.

If you discuss difficult issues when one of you is feeling less rational than normal, the potential for hurt feelings is greater.

You also won’t easily be able to reach a compromise. Table the debate until everyone is feeling better.


4. Be Present

When you’re upset with someone who means a lot to you, overwhelming emotions can lead you to withdraw and withhold affection.

While shutting down might help you avoid some emotional pain in the short term, disconnecting from your partner delays the meaningful resolution of a conflict.

Light touches and hand-holding can help center you when you fight. Being present helps keep the focus of your disagreement where it belongs—on your relationship rather than on your anger.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

5. Stick to the Subject

A sure sign of an unfair fight is when the topics wander all over the place. Let’s say you’re upset that your spouse overspent and you’re worried about money.

This is not the time to bring up your annoyance with socks being left on the floor.

Even though feeling frustrated with your partner may make you look at all their habits with more irritation, stick to the topic that’s at the heart of the issue.


6. Let Each Other Finish Speaking

Listening might sound easy enough when you’re not escalated, but at that moment, listening can feel almost impossible.

If you both commit ahead of time to trying not to interrupt and allowing each other time to finish speaking, you can nudge yourself into a natural listening position.


7. Avoid the Low Blows

Good relationships make you feel safe. When you feel safe with someone, you’re more likely to share the vulnerable parts of yourself.

Anything that your partner has told you in confidence at any point in your relationship should be off-limits during a fight. Using these zingers in a fight may make you feel powerful, but the damage they do to your relationship can be long-lasting.

Bringing up past mistakes that you’ve already previously forgiven is another low blow you want to avoid. You don’t want to win the fight but lose your relationship.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

8. Keep Things Private Whenever Possible

Most of your relationship struggles should be kept between you and your partner whenever possible. If your children see anger flare-up between you, it’s also good for them to see you resolve it (even if it’s a temporary resolution.)

While our friends and family can be helpful in many circumstances, putting them in the middle of a fight is unfair to your spouse. Using family members or friends to stack more weight on your side creates bad feelings between them and your spouse.

Once the current argument is resolved, your friends and family will still remember the fight and may have a more negative view of your spouse. Remember: the goal in fighting fair is to clear the air and resolve issues, not to win.

You may not be able to completely avoid ever having another argument. But when you fight fair, the disagreements can actually make your relationship stronger.


9. Talk About How You Fight When You’re Not Fighting

If you’ve been together for a long, you can likely list several things that do and don’t work for you when you’re arguing with your partner. Do you feel like your partner is closed off to you emotionally during disagreements?

Maybe you’re naturally somewhat defensive, and it would help you open up to him when you’re fighting if your partner tried not to raise his tone of voice.

Everyone has a different style of arguing, so simply understanding what conflict feels like to the other can make your fighting fairer.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide


Fighting in Relationships Over Money

Fighting in an intimate relationship isn’t fun, but fighting over money is rough. Money often represents power, and it’s one of the top 10 reasons why couples fight.

Often, it’s a problem with communication that lies at the base of these fights.

We attach it to the subject of how to fight fairly in an intimate relationship because fights about money are sometimes in a different league.

You should never underestimate the ability of money to wreck your marriage and even lead to divorce. Of course, the reasons couples fight over money are diverse.

You’re individuals that don’t always share the same views of things, but fighting over money is never healthy for a marriage.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

Why Money Is One of the Biggest Reasons Couples Fight

Emotions often play a big factor in fights.

It’s not so much that you argue over numbers – over the math – it’s what the money means to each of you emotionally. And when emotions are involved in any fight, boundaries get blurry, and arguments get irrational.

So, what are the main reasons couples fight about money? Here are a few:

  • You don’t make enough money to cover your expenses, which may be the biggest reason for fights about money. When you don’t have enough income, bills often don’t get paid on time.
  • You lie about financial matters. Almost one-third of couples keep secrets about finances. Either you don’t disclose how large your debt is before marriage, or you “forget” to tell your partner about purchases you’re currently making.
  • You have different personalities, views of money, or financial objectives. Almost three-fourths of married couples are made up of one spender and one saver. Perhaps you’re undecided between buying that big house in Houston or the condo in San Diego. In contrast, your partner would rather just save up for retirement.
  • One of you earns more money than the other. Your money. My money. Disagreements often happen because the partner earning less is spending more than they earned.


How You Can Stop Fighting Over Money

If this has been an issue that has plagued your relationship, marriage counseling may be an option to help you sort out differences when you just can’t seem to agree. But you may want to give the following four tips a try before involving a professional.


1. Find common ground and learn to compromise.

Figure out who is the spender and who is the saver in the family. To stop fighting over money, you both need to make sacrifices to meet in the middle because, ultimately, you guys are on the same team.

Think about what adjustments you could make to reach a compromise.


2. Set a budget and stick to it.

A budget can help you pay your bills on time. You can also adjust it to fit your needs each month.

Stick to spending only money you have, not “money” in the form of credit. And consider setting an approval limit for purchases made with shared money by one of you alone.


3. Give each other some financial freedom.

Having personal spending money that you can use as you please is important. Agree on how much you’ll both set aside for yourselves.

Either a fixed monthly allowance or a percentage of your income may work best. Then, set it aside in cash or separate personal accounts.

Make sure you come up with an agreement that works best for both of you.


4. Communicate regularly about money.

Discussion of all the aforementioned financial points on a monthly basis is the best way to continue avoiding money fights. Talk about your budget, your financial goals, and your needs and wants.

Be certain you have specific goals in mind for the discussion, separating each issue and staying on topic.

Through it all, remember: you want to come up with solutions. So agree to disagree and respect each others’ opinions.


How to Fight in a Relationship: A Therapist's Guide

Learn How to Fight Fairly

The goal of relationship therapy isn’t to teach you how to avoid all arguments but to teach you a better way to argue. In relationship therapy, you can learn how to minimize your role in unnecessary arguments.

Sometimes you just need to clear the air. The real goal is to teach you how to fight fair when arguments can’t be avoided.

Your attachment style influences how you react to your needs and how you go about getting them met. This brief attachment style quiz will help you understand your own attachment pattern and what implications it might have for your relationships.


If you and your partner get stuck in blame, defensiveness, contempt, or withdrawal patterns when arguing, you might consider marriage counseling. These behaviors have been shown to be destructive in romantic and intimate relationships.

A marriage counselor can help you find ways to discuss your disagreements in a manner that preserves your relationship. Contact us in Houston to find out about relationship counseling, call us at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

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