🎯Do You Fight Fair?

How to Argue in a Way That Gets Positive Results

Two bears fight.

It’s normal to disagree with people now and then. We have our own views, and they don’t always match everybody else’s. There’s an art to fighting clean, though, and getting positive results.

Fight dirty, backstabbing, name-calling, and berating, and you will alienate the person you’re trashing. It might feel good at the time or bad, but justifiable. Nonetheless, getting down and dirty won’t help you in the long run.

When you emotionally stamp on people, quite rightly, they defend themselves similarly. Before you know it, a full-blown battle ensues, and it’s not a pretty sight. Nasties flood from your voice-box — things you didn’t even know were in there — and a barrage of bloodcurdling venom splats right back in your face.

The notable thing about unclean quarreling is it makes everything worse. You fight because you believe something’s amiss — a friend snubs you, your boss doesn’t treat you fairly, or your spouse takes you for granted — and you want to improve the situation. Your attitude, however, and method of arguing digs you a hole.

What makes fights dirty?

Dirty fights involve verbal poison. The words issued are meant to harm rather than put things right in a win/win fashion. The idea of dirty fighting is to crush your opponent into submission, so you get your own way. (Great if you’re a gladiator, but not so smashing if you want to be liked.)

Studies show couples who divorce usually show signs a break-up is on the way long before the poop hits the fan. There’s a period in which the poop heads in the fan’s direction.

The grubby argument style that ruins relationships consists of name-calling, “you good-for-nothing son of a bitch,” back-tracking, “you let me down five years ago,” and put-downs, “you’re useless.”

Name-calling and why it stinks

When you call your nearest and dearest a trout-faced tramp, he/she is liable to take more than offense. Outrage will flow, and a verbal assault will be served to your court in return.

What’s more, the next time you feel like snuggling up on the sofa with your beloved, unless the vile remark’s forgotten, you’ve got no chance of receiving a foot rub.

Kids learn to name-call in the playground. After labeling your best pal a dumb witbecause she stole your favorite marble, though, you are likely to come out of the situation unscathed. Pam (let’s call her that) will sulk for a while, but she will forgive you and give back the marble.

When you grow up and resort to name-calling, however, the outcome is more detrimental. Your words corrode your relationship. They eat away at it, bit-by-bit, because they are remembered and used as ammunition in a future attack.

Most importantly, telling your spouse he’s an ugly barnacle — quite apart from being unfair to mollusks — will hurt him. When you love someone, you don’t want to cause them pain.

Back-tracking and why it stinks

When you backtrack, you bring up old slights from the past.

“Jim. Remember that time you upset Aunt Agatha by saying you hate hats with pink pom poms in them? Well, you’re doing it again now. You’re being insensitive to my needs! You’re always insensitive, you buffoon!” (Name-calling too).

In reality, backtracking is usually more painful than the example above. It consists of going over and over old wounds, opening them up, and rubbing salt in them — ouch!

Back-tracking hurts because it shows you haven’t forgiven the other person and intend to let their indiscretions hang over them like a pendulum over a pit forever. It signals they won’t be set free and will be punished for the entirety of the relationship.

Plus, nobody wants to be reminded of their mistakes, and not forgiving them means you’re full of angst. (Who wants to hang out with someone who oozes torment? Not me).

Put-downs and why they stink

Put-downs are one of the dirtiest traits of a filthy fighter. They damage relationships big-time and leave scars. Kids who are told they aren’t good enough carry unkind words into adulthood and may suffer from low self-esteem. Adults on the receiving end of put-downs suffer too.

Put-downs always involve telling someone they are deficient in some way. You might say they are stupid or unlovable, and even if you believe what you say, your words aren’t facts. They are your opinion. Mostly, though, you don’t mean them, and they reflect your fear, anger, or frustration. The person you insult, however, might take them to heart.

Repetitive put-downs lead to depression, feelings of unworthiness, and fear of never making the grade. You wouldn’t wish that for someone you love, like, or want to be friends with, would you?

How to fight clean

To fight clean, you need a win/win outlook. You must want everyone involved in the confrontation to come out of the quarrel not just alive but thriving.

When you fight in a way that brings about positive results, you first consider the outcome you want. Do you want to improve your relationship, for instance? Or maybe you want someone to change their behavior toward you. Clearly, name-calling, back-tracking, and put-downs won’t help.

Next, think about what the other person might want. If you don’t know, ask them.

Consider how to meet both of your needs without causing harm.

Tips to help you fight like a leader


Adopt the traits of successful leaders when you argue. For instance, good leaders are great listeners. They don’t talk over their followers. They see conversations as opportunities to understand the situation and find out what’s happening. Since they already know what they want, they work at finding out other people’s opinions before considering the next step.

Choose not to take offense

The chances are the person you argue with won’t understand the rules of a fair fight. Most of the fights they’ve witnessed and been involved in are dirty. This means you must take the lead and demonstrate your new way of communicating.

No doubt, the individual might say something offensive to you before they get the hang of clean fighting. You can choose, however, not to be offended. Don’t take what they say personally.

Recognize reasons people fight dirty. They haven’t been taught a better way, and they are doing what they know to do. Be resolute and stick to your intention to play fair, and you are likely to achieve a successful outcome.

Sit and face the other person

It’s hard to use too much negative body language when you sit. Also, most people associate sitting with calmness. After all, in an emergency, you are on your toes rather than comfortably seated next to your opponent.

Face the other person, too. Turn your body toward them and lean in a little to show you’re listening. When you speak, use a palm-up gesture if appropriate — to signal honesty and friendliness — and avoid finger-jabbing at all costs.

Oh, and don’t sit with a table between you either, you don’t want to put up any barriers.

Focus on achieving a win/win result

Unless you’re dealing with someone truly evil who plans to do terrible things, consider their needs as well as yours. Work toward a result that favors you both. Tell them what you’re doing too, so they can work with you rather than against you.

A conversation that goes

“You ridiculous numskull. You never remember our anniversary,”

Can become

“I see you’ve been really busy lately. What can I do to help? As soon as there’s time I would love to celebrate being with you for thirty years and go somewhere special. What do you think?”

Although I’m poking fun slightly with this example, you see the point. The latter remark will afford a positive outcome, while the first invites the couple to go down a slippery slope into the mud, where dirty fights occur.

Fair fighting is healthy fighting. It clears the air and is the catalyst for positive change. Practice if you like the idea, and your relationships will flourish — plus, you’ll get what you want without hurting anyone.

Don’t want to miss new stories? Click here to join Medium. Your membership fee directly supports Bridget Webber and other writers you read. You’ll also get full access to every story on Medium.



Writer, former counselor, author, and avid tea drinker learning how to live well.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
✨ Bridget Webber

Writer, former counselor, author, and avid tea drinker learning how to live well.