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Couples disagree. Parents get frustrated with their children. Bosses and employees have different perspectives. Friends are mean to each other inadvertently. This type of quarrel is common.  Unfortunately, minor disagreements can lead to emotionally escalated conversations quickly and people get hurt. 

One way to stay calm during a dispute is to own your part in the disagreement. Fair Fighting Guidelines (adapted from “Fair Fighting Rules” published on will help you stay calm. These guidelines will:

  • Promote listening skills 
  • Help calm escalated emotions 
  • Encourage compassion and appreciation of differences 
  • Allow you to be in charge of your feelings 
  • Increase a sense of self-mastery, even if the outcome fails to meet your expectations  

What Are the Fair Fighting Guidelines?

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Realize you do not have the power to change anyone but yourself

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think about and identify your own feelings

Before beginning a potentially emotionally charged conversation (if time allows), ask yourself why you feel upset.You can begin with these :
- What might trigger me? 
- Am I prepared to respond without immediately escalating?
- Do I need to talk about my emotions with a good friend or therapist first?

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Set a goal

Decide what you want to accomplish in this discussion. If you want to “win,” it might be useful to rethink having the conversation. Compromise is the most useful outcome for a disagreement.

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Discuss one topic at a time

Discuss one topic at a time. If you don’t, you’ll lose track of the original concern. This is the reason for setting a goal. Pick one topic and stick to it until it is resolved or the conversation can’t continue.

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discuss the issue, not the person

No insults, blaming, or name-calling. People can and do have differing perspectives. Ideas are neutral: they are not right or wrong, good or bad. Unkind language will bring more tension to the conversation.

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listen to yourself

Stop speaking if you start to raise your voice. Yelling says “I’m the only one that matters here.” Yelling communicates disrespect for the feelings and thoughts of others. There is a good chance you have felt this way when someone shouted at you.

Although challenging (and often frustrating), most people can learn to think differently about how they relate to one another and themselves. The other person may not know these guidelines, yet you can use them to keep the conversation less emotionally charged. You will set an example for the other person in the conversation. “Fair Fighting Guidelines” presents common sense ways to practice positive communication skills in everyday life.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

Meet The Author

Pam Wagner, Clinical Therapist and Social Worker at Sea Glass Mental Health in Arizona



Meet The Author

Pam is a Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with adults, couples, and families. Pam specializes in female childhood trauma, chronic pain, PTSD, and EMDR.

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