In nature, humans are driven by the fight or flight response. When faced with a threat, we choose to stand our ground or run for the hills.
In relationships, most guys follow the fight then flight response. At the first sign of an argument, we say our partner’s “just not right for us” and go out looking for someone new.
But then what?
Why there’s no such thing as a “perfect” relationship
You know what happens next if you’ve been through this cycle a few times. You go out, fool around until you fall in love, and everything is perfect. Until it’s not.
Another fight. Another failed relationship. The cycle continues.
In your head, you’re looking for the “perfect match.” And every fight is just a warning sign of what’s to come once the honeymoon phase is over.
But the hard truth is that great relationships aren’t free of fights and arguments — they’re built on them. When it’s Tuesday night, and you’re both tired from work, and the dog needs to go out, and she heads to bed early (again), there’s no amount of grand gestures or romance that will make it all work out.
Instead, if you want to build a meaningful and lasting relationship, you need to learn to fight the right way.
1. Ask what you’re really upset about
Arguments are rarely about one thing. Your partner might do or say something that triggers you. But ask yourself: are you mad about this one thing? Or is this more evidence of a more significant issue you’ve kept inside?
Know what you’re fighting about before you start.
2. Set some ground rules
Before an argument, decide what’s fair game and what’s off the table (no headshots, nothing below the belt, etc.)
In counselling, we call these your fighting “ground rules.” They should include things like:
- Focus on the issue, not the person. No degrading language or put-downs.
- Stick to one topic at a time. Don’t roll up all your grievances into one argument.
- No yelling or stonewalling. Use a safe word for when it’s time to take a break.
- Take turns speaking. Give your partner your full attention, and don’t interrupt them
3. Learn to listen (even when you’re pissed off)
Few things destroy a constructive argument like defensiveness. But what are you supposed to do when someone you trust attacks you?
As hard as it can be, arguments only move forward when both people learn to listen to each other. Show your partner you hear what they’re saying by making eye contact, repeating your understanding of what they’re saying back to them, and engaging before moving on to your point.
4. Build a fighting foundation
The severity of a fight depends on context. Are you on day 26 in a row of arguing? Or is this just a tiny pothole in an otherwise smooth road?
According to relationship researcher John Gottman, the “magic ratio” of positive to negative experiences in a successful relationship is 5:1. This means that you need five positive experiences for every negative argument to keep your relationship in balance.
5. Bring in a referee
Fights and arguments can feel like betrayal. You’ve put your trust in this person, opened up to them, and been vulnerable. How could they do this to you?
It’s okay to be angry and frustrated. But when your emotions get in the way of a constructive argument, it’s time to consider bringing in help.
That’s where a counsellor or therapist can help. At Manifest, we’ve helped hundreds of guys learn to control their emotions, argue constructively, and build lasting relationships.