How to Fight Less

By: Barbi Pecenco, MFT-Intern

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Creating intimacy with our partner or starting a fight is often a matter of just a few sentences. At any time we can CHOOSE to fight with our partner and turn them into an enemy or choose to avoid them and turn them into a stranger or choose to confide in them and create intimacy. The differences in these approaches are enormous.

We have 3 choices in conversation with our mate:

We can say something that will start a fight or we can get defensive. Either attacking our partner or defending ourselves from attack turns our partner into our enemy
We can not say anything at all which leads us to avoid conflict, but it also turns our partner into someone who doesn't know us very well
We can confide in our partner. We can tell them how we really feel (in a non-blaming way) and turn our partner into our confidante and support system.
Some examples of each-


If you want to turn your partner into an enemy you can scream "You are so lazy, you never help out around the house!" This will likely start a fight and your partner will likely either attack you back or become defensive. Or he/she may start cleaning the house, but he/she will build resentment along the way. This does not solve your problem.

If you want to turn your partner into a stranger you can just do all the housework yourself without mentioning that you would like some help (and build your own resentment).
Or you can take your partner into your confidence and say how you are really feeling such as, "I feel really taken advantage of when I get stuck doing all the housework. What I'd like is for you to take out the trash and help me dry the dishes."


You are at a party and it seems to you that your partner is spending a good amount of time talking to his new secretary and ignoring you. You can turn your partner into your enemy by saying, "How could you ignore me like that all night and spend all your time talking to that cow? You need to fire her immediately!"

You can turn your partner into a stranger by saying nothing and ignoring him on the ride home, and every time he asks what's wrong you can say, "Oh nothing, I'm just tired."
Or you can turn your partner into your ally by saying something like "Hey, I miss you, I've been stuck by the buffet table stuffing my face out of jealousy while you were chatting with your secretary. I know it's ridiculous but I'm over here feeling really lonely. I'd like it if you could hang out with me for a while."


If you want to turn your partner into your enemy you can say, "You never want to hang out with me, you just want to be with your friends all the time. Why don't you marry them?"

If you want to turn your partner into a stranger, when he comes home from his guys' night out you can say, "Hey, Dave Letterman's on TV" or ignore him. Both are avoiding the issue.

Or if you want to take your partner into your confidence and open up an opportunity to possibly create intimacy you could say, "I sat here feeling really sorry for myself tonight. I was mad at you for going out with your friends and leaving me all alone. I know you need your guys' nights, but my social life isn't as happening as yours right now, and it can be lonely around here."

In order to have the confiding conversation we have to a) be on good terms with our partner and trust that they will support us when we let down our guard and confide something that leaves us vulnerable b) we have to feel entitled to whatever it is we are feeling. If we don't feel entitled to have a hand with the cleaning around the house, or entitled to our momentary lapses of jealousy, then we will feel too ashamed to confide those feelings, and instead, we will usually choose the avoiding or attacking route.

Ironically, confiding often helps create good terms with our partner. Our partner gets to see our softer side that we may often hide. When we are sad instead of angry, it's easier for your partner to approach you and may make him/her able to reach out and soothe you. Also, if you are taking responsibility for your own feelings and not automatically blaming your partner for how you feel, then your partner is less likely to have to defend themselves or attack you back.
But remember, if you want a great relationship with your partner you get to choose. Are you going to start a fight, avoid the whole thing, or take your partner into your confidence? Whatever you choose, you are also choosing the corresponding action—turning your partner into your friend/ally, or a stranger or an enemy.

The key to a great relationship is both partners trying to understand, respect and support each other. It is not helping either of you or your relationship to attack each other, get defensive, or avoid each other. To get intimacy with our partner, to be known by them, we need to tell them how we are feeling and what we think about things. We lose our partner when we yell, blame, criticize and ignore. When we feel threatened we automatically go into fight or flight, so your partner has to decide to either attack you back or flee. When this happens, neither of you get your needs met and it erodes the safety that is necessary in relationships.

Yelling "You're lazy," or "You want your secretary!" OR "You care more about the guys than me" is going to push your partner away, when want you really want is your partner to respect, understand and support you. But he/she can't possibly do that due to the approach you chose which is not respecting them, supporting them or understanding them.

The good news in all of this is that you get to choose! So start practicing confiding in your partner and see how your relationship becomes a safe and intimate one.

If you find this difficult to do on your own, don't hesitate to seek couples counseling to help you have more of these confiding conversations and less attacking or avoidant ones.

By: Barbi Pecenco, Marriage & Family Therapist Intern, IMF #54917. Barbi specializes in couples counseling in San Diego, CA.

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