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Fighting Words

It is true that all couples fight and I am not one to express an opinion in favor or against couples having disagreements. Personally, I would rather they not fight, but no rational person—myself included—would ever advocate that a relationship subsists without any disagreements because we all know it is impossible to do so.  But we can all agree that fights ought not be personal, and all of us need to learn how to fight properly. Thus the first thing to do is learn about the context of what is a fight?

There are two aspects of a fight: (1) the disagreement about an issue, (2) the verbal exchange with the other person. These two aspects are unfortunately inseparable as couples cannot express disagreements without actually talking to or dealing with one another. If there was a way for a couple to fight and ultimately reach an agreement without ever having to talk to another, it would be ideal and we would all welcome such technology. Until that day, we just have to do it the old-fashioned way: with words; and hopefully we do it without using “fighting words.”

My concern with couples fighting is that, instead of fighting about a particular issue, they end up fighting with each other. When we fight with each other (not about the issue) we say hurtful things that have nothing to do with the issue that started the fight initially.  At the end the fight gets ugly and it simply becomes about “who can hurt the other the most?” And if that is the case, then people feel compelled to retaliate by saying cruel, atrocious and hurtful things about each other whereby they feel vindicated because as the saying goes: “all is fair in love and war.” However, after a legitimate fight, if a couple’s ultimate goal is to rekindle their flames and get back to harmonious ways, then not all is fair in love and war.

Here are few examples of seemingly benign language that I have come across in private practice that have ruined marriages and relationships.

  1. It doesn’t matter to me.
  2. We always do what you want.
  3. What is it to you?
  4. You did what you did, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.
  5. This is your 100th time.
  6. You’re not perfect either.
  7. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.
  8. I’ve gotta go. Later.
  9. Please don’t act like you care.
  10. Just don’t tell me what to do.

My hope is that we all learn how to fight not against each other but about issues pertinent to the betterment of the relationship, and that we stay on topic without veering towards personal attacks. In order to learn how to fight properly, we need to anticipate when our language, though colloquial in today’s parlance, gets more personal and less to the point. It may seem harmless at the beginning but such reasoning is a slippery slope because it is inevitable that such personal criticism could be a relationship-killer.

About the author

Dr. Tseday is a clinical psychologist and one of the country's leading experts in marriage, relationships, and self development. She advocates a unique and at times controversial approach to the dynamics of marriage and personal development, the necessary element for a successful relationship. Read more »


  1. Anteneh Asrat
    Posted 01/15/14 at 4:57 AM | Permalink

    In times of anger and emotionality, one who could control his temper is, as the bible says, is greater than one of rules a city. As a guarding measure, I used to shun any dialogue during my anger at its peak so that I would avoid hurting the feelings of my partner by my “fighting words”. “Fighting words” are not barren by their very nature!!!! They would bear, naturally, their offspring, perhaps more violent ones!!! As you rightly mention it, “Relationship Killer” . Through experience, I have trained my self to use beautiful, encouraging and comforting, respect and appreciating words at times I am having good feelings. This, in turn, would reward me at high a degree both from psychological satisfaction and from my partner response. Afterall, “sew yezerawn yanenu degmo yachidal” yilalena. Thank you for this peace of advice.

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