Do You Fight Fair?

You’re dying to let loose and say what you really think but the words aren’t pretty so you’re biting your tongue. Whatever it is – you don’t say it. Because if you do – you can’t take it back.

And you know that fighting fair is a sort of winning, in and of itself.

Fighting fair is worth fighting for.

We all know that we can’t always play nice, but we certainly can try, can’t we? And that includes the way we approach conflict – bickering over the little things, warring over significant ones – or managing both like adults.

If you value your child, your spouse, your friends – of course you want to express what you’re feeling and make your points. But you also don’t want to damage the relationship. And if you don’t fight fair, you will.

But it’s not always simple.

Winning the Point, Losing the Game?

Sometimes, we’re afraid to address issues head on. We may not have the communication skills, the emotional fortitude, the confidence. It may be the wrong time or the wrong place. But when resentments build and you haven’t given them an appropriate airing, when anger flairs disproportionately in the heat of the moment, when you’re tempted to take that jab below the belt – think twice.

Think three times.

You may get what you’re after in the short term, but in the long run, the relationship will suffer.

In order to fight fair – to express your feelings in a constructive way – you must balance the need to win with the consequences if you don’t, and just as importantly, what you have to lose in the way you pursue your position.

Fighting Fair With Your Kids

What tween or teen doesn’t know exactly how to push our hot buttons? Kids know our vulnerabilities as we know theirs; they want what they want, without necessarily understanding the full impact of angry words or defiant behaviors.

It has taken plenty of practice for me not to overreact when my temper gets the better of me. All-out arguments with my sons have been rare, but tiffs are routine and even the most patient parent will crack when worn down. And of course, regret it.

That’s when remembering how vulnerable they are is essential. Words can wound, and do so permanently. And of course, parents are the model that children rely on for their mode of handling disagreements.

So I’ve taught myself to stop, breathe, and choose my words carefully. I’m far more likely to fight fair, knowing full well that we can’t take back what we say – once we’ve said it.

Fighting Fair With Your Spouse or Partner

What about butting heads with the one you love or the one you married? Isn’t it usual to have disagreements, the occasional sources of friction, or to fight over key differences where each of you believes you’re right?

You want your partner to agree to another child, to an expensive vacation, to a relocation. If you’re convinced it’s the best thing not only for yourself but for the marriage – does that give you the right to pull out all the stops and fight with everything you’ve got – fair or otherwise?

When it comes to marriage, not fighting fair can be dangerous.

Marriage, Divorce, And Everything In Between

Friction is unavoidable in every relationship. In my experience, fair dealings in disagreements means retaining your partner’s respect, which is certainly vital in a thriving relationship. You’re working through a difference in viewpoints as a team.

When one of the spouses ceases to fight fairly, regardless of the reasoning, the damage can be irreversible. Trust is broken, and you begin to doubt what you hear and what you see.

And isn’t there a fine line between exercising your will any way you can, and simply being a bully?

At what point does coercive behavior become abusive?

Won’t the consequences eventually catch up to you – as you realize that your partner values his or her “way” more than the relationship or a mutually beneficial solution? Is something more going on when marriage is increasingly about criticism or a need for control or growing indications of selfishness?

Infidelity and Other Transgressions

Looking for an example of what not to do?

If your partner has had an affair – a one-time event, for example, which has been discussed and dealt with – don’t throw it back in his or her face every time you get the chance. Infidelity seems like a particularly searing sort of betrayal, and rebuilding trust may be slow and painful. But if you bring up the subject over and over, is that fair?

How long do you think you can sustain a relationship held together by guilt?

We all make mistakes in judgment – some worse than others. Hopefully we learn, and genuinely regret the pain we’ve caused others. Even if we can’t forget, forgiving and moving forward means fighting fair and playing fair.

Do You Fight Fair?

I’m not sure I ever explicitly talked to my sons about fighting fair, but I hope that I modeled it. If I stepped out of line by overreacting, I generally apologized for losing my cool even if I stood by my response. I did not belittle or manipulate in my words or my behaviors, and if one of them hurt me inadvertently, I let him know, and explained why.

Believe me – there is no “perfect” in any of this, and I’m no exception. But I know first-hand what it is to be on the receiving end of direct and indirect criticism, of subtle manipulation and outright bullying. I do not want that for my sons; I do not want that in any relationship. That keeps me vigilant in terms of my own behavior, and equally so in observing how others may deal with me.

As for fighting fair with your spouse – it isn’t only what you say and how you say it; the silent treatment is cruel in its own way, and a passive-aggressive method of getting the other to do what you want. It is an indirect and unhealthy expression of anger, and hardly the stuff of fair resolution to a differing viewpoint.

Manipulation, Control, Passive-Aggressive Behaviors

So what about unfair manipulation – through action and inaction, through words and silence?

What about withholding affection, or withholding sex, or withholding necessary money required to keep the household going? What about perpetually turning to passive-aggressive phrases that dismiss or confuse the concerns of your partner, or undermine his or her confidence?

Is this really how you wish to conduct your relationship? Is this really what you want as a model for your children?

How to Fight Fair 

Fighting fair preserves relationships, while addressing the inevitable and necessary handling of conflict.

Want to fight fair? Here are some methods that have worked for me.

  • Manage your emotional state – take a breath; walk away and come back; if you can’t speak it, then write it – put your concerns on paper and communicate in that fashion.
  • Be careful what you say – choose your words without using name-calling or pulling in past events that are emotionally charged and unrelated to the issue at hand.
  • Pay attention to the way you are saying what you are saying – your tone, the place you choose to give airing to your disagreement, and don’t do it in front of your children!
  • Be equally attentive to what you don’t say and don’t do. Don’t wield your silence like a weapon. Or your body (affection, sex). Or your responsibilities to the family unit, for that matter.
  • Avoid manipulative behaviors – “if you don’t do this then I will do that.” This is bullying, pure and simple. It does not belong in any relationship if you value its healthy continuation.


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  1. says

    While of course I agree that parents need to role model the best behavior possible, I also don’t think it’s right to let every hurtful remark a child makes go without consequences of some sort. I say that because sometimes I haven’t held the girls accountable for things they’ve said, but lately, I’ve tried to rectify that. Of course, any sort of accountability can feel unfair to a child at times, but as usual, there’s a balance.

  2. says

    *squirming massively*


    a relationship based on parity and fairness.


    we “hear” that must be lovely.

    probably why we are Avoiding Relationships (apart from with our scar on the throat and That relationship is going rather well – in a sort of proud-to-show-our-scars and help other people talk about the scars that we can’t see but they still feel…..)

    love your blog. always.

    hope you’re having some mellow sunshine and a rather lovely cup of earl grey in proper china wherever you are today, dear interweb friend.

    _tg x

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Parity and fairness. It’s worth a try, n’est-ce pas? No Earl Grey today, but sunshine beyond the window. A very nice thing, _tg. I hope you’re experiencing some as well.

  3. says

    Oh my! I posted something similar today…Toothpaste moments. Your have great guidelines for fighting fair. Does this mean I have to stop being passive aggressive? But it’s so much fun! 😛

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I know some people think passive-aggressive behavior is very ingrained. I suspect it is, for some. But I think for others it’s habit like any other learned behavior – which means it can be modified into better habits, no? (And read your toothpaste moments. We were definitely thinking along the same lines today!)

  4. says

    I like your closing principles for fighting fair. Good. I also enjoyed the link to your Huff Post article about withholding sex as a battle tool. Makes me think of the man who cut off his nose to spite his face. It can never be a winner, and if occurs for long, significant changes will occur in what has to be a loveless marriage.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      The discussion at Huff Post was fascinating, Paul. Don’t know if you read any of it. And more than 10 days later, it continues – which tells me just how much people want – and need – to explore what is and isn’t working in their most intimate relationships. As to using sex as a tool or weapon, I agree. We each experience marriage differently, of course, but lack of physical affection is, for many of us, a sorrowful place. Thank you, as always, for your good words.

  5. says

    Good counsel. I would also add to avoid threatening to leave the person you are fighting with. We all fear rejection and abandonment so deeply that while our threats to leave evoke the pain we feel, and thus wish to inflict, such threats erode trust and blow up the bridges between us and those we love. If we conclude it’s over, it’s best to strive for a loving parting of ways, but a decisive one, like Machiavelli suggests—quick pain sparing the agony of protracted pain. But if we’re just pissed but not leaving, it’s good not to bring abandonment into it—learning to fight includes cultivating the safety to be royally pissed and still trust that no one is going anywhere.

  6. says

    Almost always when I get mad, it’s over losing something. I like your list at the end. If I can avoid indulging my anger for just a bit, I can think about what the real loss is, and it’s almost always less than I imagined.

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