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with Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

12 Ways You May be Making Your Relationship Worse

Conflict happens in close relationships but there is much you can do to make conflict with your partner constructive rather than destructive.

Here are 12 ways fights may be damaging your relationship, along with suggestions on how to disagree without being disagreeable.

You may not be fighting fair if . . .

1) You start too many sentences with “You.” Own your part. “I” statements go a long way and encourage your partner to respond in kind.

2) You JADE (Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain.) You have the right to feel how you feel and want what you want. You do not need to explain or justify your feelings or values, nor does your partner.

3) You keep doing what doesn’t work. Instead:  If what you are doing isn’t working, try something else. It can help to say, “I feel we are going in circles. I know there is something important here or we wouldn’t both have such strong feelings. Can we start at the beginning, or try a different approach? That could help me understand this better.”

Or allow the option of a do-over. Either one of you can restart the clock at any time by saying, “Can we start again? How about a do-over?”

4) You make sweeping statements rather than sticking to specifics. Rather than saying “You never think of my needs” – which is likely to be untrue and will put your partner on the defensive – say something specific and finite, such as “When you came to bed the other night you made a lot of noise and woke me up. I felt upset because I have a big presentation tomorrow. Could you try to be quieter coming to bed if I am asleep?”

5) You take things out on each other. A fight sometimes may be a proxy for something else, perhaps not even between the two of you. If you are stressed or worried financial issues, career problems or your health or the health of a loved one, talk about those. Don’t take it out on your partner.

6) Tempers rise and voices follow. Speak softly and carry a big heart. Raised voices can trigger our fight-or-flight impulse. Instead:  Be conscious of your words, gestures and tone. Don’t smirk, roll your eyes or use a sarcastic or mocking tone.

If you find you are raising your voice too much, apologize or suggest a time out by saying, “I am too upset and overwhelmed to speak constructively and I don’t want to say anything I will regret. Can we take a break and talk about this in an hour? That will give me a chance to think about what you’ve said and become my better self.”

7) Things get physical. Never, ever get physical. If there is any risk that may happen, walk away until you or your partner calm down.

8) You argue at the worst possible times. Instead:  Find the optimal time and place. Bringing up a loaded topic when one or both of you is pressed for time, don’t have privacy, or is tired or hungry or in a chemically altered state can turn a small conflict into a big one.

9) You start arguing about one issue and start throwing in a ‘kitchen sink’ of other issues. If you or your partner piles on another issue, changes the subject or drags in past conflicts, little is likely to get resolved.

Instead: If during the course of a disagreement, you realize that a different, bigger or more important issue is arising, acknowledge that. Say, “We started talking about who should put away the dishes but I realize this may be about something bigger, like a sense of fairness and reciprocity. Can we talk about that instead in hopes that the dishes issue could be resolved along with this bigger issue?”

10) You interrupt or talk over each other. Monologues go nowhere and simultaneous monologues leave both people unheard. Let your partner vent if needed. Try to listen to the key points or themes, then paraphrase what you heard and ask if that is right. Then, ask if your partner is willing to hear your side.

11) Every argument seems life or death. Not everything is equally important. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. If everything feels like an A-One priority, nothing is likely to get done.

12) You talk more than listen. Instead:  Ask, don’t tell. Listen at least half the time. Even more is better. Asking questions with an openness to hearing the answer is nearly always a productive thing to do. Asking questions often generates far more forward movement than explaining your position.

This is the final part in a three-part series on how to fight fair in an intimate relationship. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

Copyright © Dan Neuharth PhD MFT


Woman facing man by Africa Studios
Couple turned apart by Andrey Popov
Pointing couple by Wave Break Media

12 Ways You May be Making Your Relationship Worse

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2019). 12 Ways You May be Making Your Relationship Worse. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.