How to have a healthy fight

Every relationship has its ups and downs, but don't think a fight has to be a bad thing'arguments can be healthy, too. Here are 6 steps to making sure yours are productive

How to have a healthy fight

Source: Web exclusive: May 2009

Rachel Costain and her husband, Aaron, have been arguing about renovations to the their downtown Toronto home for several months. While the issue has yet to be resolved, Rachel says that dealing with disagreements is just a normal part of their eight-year relationship.

‘We have learned to argue together,’ says the 30-year-old elementary school teacher. “I think arguing now and again is a good thing.’

As most adults know, being part of a couple isn’t all romance and happy endings. ‘It’s rare to have a couple that doesn’t disagree at some point,’ says Kevin VanDerZwet Stafford, executive director of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. ‘I think it can be healthy for couples to disagree.’

However, VanDerZwet Stafford says that it’s the way that a couple deals with their disagreements that makes for a healthy relationship. Here’s how to make sure you’re fighting fair with your partner.

1. Argue in good faith

When you and your partner enter into a disagreement, it’s important to realize that you have each other’s best interests at heart. ‘[Your partner] may not agree with what you’re saying at the moment, but they’re not maliciously out to get you,’ says VanDerZwet Stafford. Treating your partner as an adversary isn’t going to help resolve an argument about who will carpool the kids to soccer next week. Even in the most heated arguments, trust that your partner cares about you and your feelings.

2. Timing is everything

If you’re going to bring up a contentious issue with your partner, make sure you have time to listen to the response. ‘Don’t dish it out if you’re not willing to stick around and work it out," says VanDerZwet Stafford. "If you’re willing to take responsibility for what you’re saying, that’s when [an argument] becomes healthy.’

Bringing up a problem five minutes before you’re both about to leave for work, for example, may not be the best way to resolve a disagreement. Instead, make sure you and your partner have the time to commit to a discussion before tackling a serious issue. For busy partners, that might mean planning ahead. ‘I have couples in my office who rebuff the idea of scheduling conversations, but as they go through the course of therapy, they discover how helpful it is. It allows both people to get prepared for the conversation,’ says VanDerZwet Stafford.

3. Keep it out of the bedroom

The bedroom may be the only place where you and your partner can find privacy in your home, but VanDerZwet Stafford strongly advises against arguing where you sleep. ‘Bedrooms are places of calm,’ he says. ‘If you’re arguing in the bedroom, where are you going to go to get some rest?’

Rather than bringing negative energy into your sleeping area, choose a quiet place in the home away from the television and computer. ‘Cellphones need to be turned off, not just put on vibrate,’ says VanDerZwet Stafford. If you have children, make sure they’re at school, asleep or in a different part of the house before engaging in a disagreement.

4. Control your emotions

VanDerZwet Stafford says that he mostly sees two types of arguing styles in his therapy practice: people who need to time and space before dealing with an issue and those who need to discuss the situation right away. ‘If you and your partner have different styles," he says, "part of the argument becomes helping each other understand why you need to deal with the issue in different ways.’

If you’re the type who needs to discuss things right away while your partner needs time to think, VanDerZwet Stafford suggests using techniques such as deep breathing, exercising or journaling to relieve stress while you give your partner space. Discussing the situation with a trusted friend or family member may also help give you perspective on the argument.

5. Stay on topic

One of the biggest mistakes couples make in arguing is that they don’t stay on track, VanDerZwet Stafford says. If a disagreement about the cleaning schedule snowballs into an argument about the in-laws, dinner menus and homework duty, your chances of resolving anything are slim.

‘Be clear on what you’re arguing about,’ says VanDerZwet Stafford. ‘For some people, that means writing the issue down on a piece of paper.’ If you notice that the discussion is getting off topic, gently remind your partner of what your argument is really about and guide the discussion back to the topic at hand.

6. Lay the groundwork

It’s important for couples to discuss strategies for dealing with arguments before a disagreement arises, says VanDerZwet Stafford. ‘There’s reluctance from couples to revisit these issues when times are good because they don’t want to upset the apple cart. But that’s what will strengthen the relationship.’ For Costain and her husband, that means keeping each other in the loop about what’s happening in their lives.

‘We try not to drop things in each other’s laps at the last minute," she says. "For instance, Aaron lets me know in advance that he might have to work all weekend. But if he told me that on a Friday night, I’d be upset. That’s our groundwork, keeping each other up to date.’

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.

Related content:

  • Why men fall asleep after sexWhy men fall asleep after sex Men fall asleep after sex for several main reasons'none of which are related to you Posted in Relationships
  • 6 massage tips6 massage tips Follow these steps to give a mind-blowing massage Posted in Relationships
  • How much sex is normal?How much sex is normal? Does frequency really matter when it comes to having a "good" sex life? Find out how to tell how much sex is right for you and your partner Posted in Relationships
  • 5 flu-fighting foods5 flu-fighting foods Don't underestimate the power of food to help keep you healthy'researchers are finding more and more edible solutions to everyday ailments. Read on for five common foods that will help you […] Posted in Cold and Flu
  • 5 ways to beat loneliness5 ways to beat loneliness Loneliness can affect us all at different times, in different ways. Whether it's a fleeting feeling or a constant state of disconnection, here are five ways to beat loneliness Posted in Mental Health

Secrets to Staying Healthy & Happy


Leg of Lamb with Double Mint Sauce

Treat yourself to roast lamb! A small leg serves six, plus it’s extra lean and surprisingly low in fat. Leg of lamb deserves the crowning jewel of a fresh double mint sauce that can be prepared in minutes, yet tastes as if it took a lot of effort.


Fitness: Do yoga in a museum this summer

Pictured: Yogis at the Grand Palais in Paris during the 2013 Lolë White Tour.I’ve seen yoga done in some pretty interesting places, but a museum is a new one!That’s what participants in this year’s third annual Lolë White Tour will get to experience. Beginning this weekend in Barcelona, the tour will stop in five major […]