John Gottman, after conducting decades of research on marital relationships, provides excellent guidance for fighting fairly and effectively. To lessen the intensity of any fight, consider his suggestions for soft start-ups.
1. Be Concise: Describe your complaint, be brief in doing so, and then stop. You usually don’t need to go on and on and on to make your point.
2. Complain but Don’t Blame: Complaining (attacking the problem) is OK while criticizing (attacking the person) is not. When complaining, take blame out by refusing to use the word “you.” Talk about your own feelings and thoughts rather than pointing out what you believe the other person is thinking or feeling. By using “I” statements instead of “You” statements you are much less likely to criticize.
3. Start with Something Positive: None of us like to hear the negative. Starting with something positive makes it easier for your partner to hear what you are saying. For example, “You aren’t affectionate when we watch television” could be said, “I like the way we cuddle when we watch a romantic movie.”
4. Describe what is Happening: Don’t Evaluate or Judge: Instead of blaming or accusing, simply describe what you see happening. In other words, instead of saying “You never help clean up,” say “I seem to be doing all the housecleaning today.”
5. Talk Clearly about What you Need: Don’t ask your partner to guess what you need or to read your mind. Say what you need explicitly. The more direct your conversation, the healthier the relationship tends to be.
6. Be Polite: Politeness isn’t just for strangers. Be polite to the person you love by using words like “please” and “thank-you” and “I would appreciate it if you would ...” goes a long way in reducing conflict and if used regularly can even be contagious.
7. Express Appreciation: Catch your partner being helpful or kind or loving and openly express appreciation. Even when he makes a mistake express appreciation for good decisions in the past, and how much you appreciate and believe in his ability to make them.
8. Don’t Store Things Up: Storing things up simply makes you explosive. Deal with issues as they come along and don’t allow the pressure to build.
9. Restate Your Feelings in Terms of the More Vulnerable Emotions: Emotions that make you want to run and hide (like sadness and fear) also convey your vulnerability. Having the courage to express your vulnerability may make it easier for your partner to understand you and then respond to your emotions.