How Do You Talk About Fighting Without Fighting?

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Hi Meredith,

After years of reading these types of letters, I’m hoping for some clarity from you. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years and we’re in our late 20s. We plan to move in together next month (first time living with a significant other for both of us), and I know we both feel ready for these next steps and what our future will hold. I genuinely want to be with this person for the rest of my life. He’s my best friend and I really love him. However, our issue is fighting. When we disagree, he gets incredibly defensive. Even if he is 100 percent in the wrong, he’ll twist it into the way I reacted or bring up previous fights.

It’s like he is trying to win more than he’s trying to understand. Thankfully, we don’t fight often. But I’m worried that moving in together will understandably come with its own set of difficulties and times where we might get harmlessly annoyed or need to over-communicate. I want to find a way to disagree in a way that’s constructive and I’m not sure how to approach it. Do I sit him down for a long talk? Suggest couples therapy? Would love and appreciate any advice!

– Worried


Couples therapy could be helpful, even if it was a short experience where you ask for help with this one thing. I do know couples that have gone to a counselor for this exact reason – to learn how to turn unproductive fights into healthier discussions that result in the right kind of changes.

Therapists with open appointments are difficult to find these days, so I’d also consider some books. Even googling “how to fight healthy” will get you to a bunch of tips about listening, compromise, and staying positive – because at the end of the day, you’re with someone you love.

Tell your boyfriend that you love him very much, but that you’d like to learn some skills for healthier fights. This might lead to him being defensive – because that’s part of it – but reiterate that you have a specific ask. You want too read some tips. Consider them. Even make fun of some of them (some won’t work for you). Think about putting the right ones into action when a conflict happens.

You asked about sitting him down for a long talk, but … I think part of the issue is that these back-and-forths go on for too long. Let him know that instead of trying to win, you just want to learn.

Even if it’s just googling tips, find the ones that speak to you. Decide as a team what makes sense. Do you prefer to go to bed angry? Do you end arguments with any call-to-action about what happens next? Is it helpful to take breaks from difficult conversations and then return to them after you’ve had space? Tell him you need his help. Do it when you’re not already fighting.

– Meredith

Readers? How do you talk about fighting without fighting?

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