All couples, even happy ones, argue. But if you aren’t handling conflict the right way, it can hurt your relationship and have a damaging effect on your children. When kids observe their parents fighting in negative ways, they have a hard time processing their own emotions about the conflict. Frustrated, some lash out. Some withdraw at home, at school, or from friends.

If arguing is inevitable, then how can you learn to fight fair? Try these strategies from relationship experts, including author and psychologist Howard Markman, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver; Marci Pregulman, president of Love Your Relationship Inc. (, which offers workshops and coaching for couples nationwide and; Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D., a psychologist, author and relationship expert.

  • Take the ‘Fight’ out of it. Speak calmly, safely and respectfully with your partner about anything, even contentious topics.
  • Focus on the behavior at issue, not the person.
  • Make a commitment to stick to specific complaints, rather than launching an all-out attack on your partner.
  • Remove blame from your language. Express how you feel using “I” comments.
  • Learn to recognize the signals that you’re about to go into criticism mode. When you feel triggered, try taking long, slow breaths, counting, or another strategy to defuse your emotions.
  • Request a break from the conflict if you feel you need one. Try saying, “Let’s take a few minutes off,” “I’d like time to calm down,” or “I need a few minutes to think about this, as I don’t want to blow up.” Don’t tell your partner that he or she needs to take a break.

Taking adult “time-outs” can stop the danger signs of destructive behavior – withdrawal, escalation, negative interpretation and invalidation – hopefully before these diminish a couple’s love and respect for one another, says Pregulman.

If children have witnessed your conflict, you can tell them that, “Daddy [or Mommy] and I don’t agree about this. We need to take some time to talk through this problem.”

  • After de-stressing for up to a half-hour, revisit the conversation with your partner using a new, more productive approach. Pregulman promotes the “speaker/listener” method of communication, in which each partner has time to talk (as the speaker) and to then hear the other one out (as the listener). “Healthy fighting does not mean that you agree with your partner, but that you hear what your partner is saying,” she notes. This technique helps restore mutual respect and the ability to solve problems collaboratively.
Jenna Samelson Browning is a freelance writer, editor and mom.