Prime News Ghana

The art of fighting and making up: How to turn disputes into 'diamonds'

By Assael Romanelli Ph.D., via Psychology Today
The art of fighting and making up
The art of fighting and making up
facebook sharing button Share
twitter sharing button Tweet
email sharing button Email
sharethis sharing button Share

Most of us hate fighting. By now, you have probably read somewhere that conflict is good for relationships, and yet arguing is still hard and can bring up feelings of frustration, despair, rage, and hopelessness.

 Most couples either don’t want to fight, don’t know how to fight, or don’t know they are actually fighting. Others realize they are fighting, but don’t know how to stop.

Some people believe that fighting in intimate relationship is a bad sign: a sign of non-compatibility, aggression, or a signal that the relationship is even over.

 In a previous post about conflict as a tool for growth, I described the two approaches to conflict: the turtle and the thunderstorm. The turtle naturally avoids conflict at all costs. The thunderstorm, on the other hand, goes straight to the eye of the storm. Many couples are composed of a thunderstorm and turtle. I recommend reading or even re-reading this article for a more general overview of conflict.
Most couples avoid fights altogether. And if they do fight, then after the fight has ended and things go back to normal (an hour, day, or week), the couple will either pretend it never happened (in order to not rock the boat) or will apologize quickly and close the case without going deeper to learn more about it.
Yet conflicts are a huge part of any intimate relationship and hold a treasure that can help partners learn more about themselves and deepen their relationship. This is because a fight is never a stand-alone event. Both partners come to the fight with previous, unresolved, semi-conscious emotional baggage (from current or past relationships, childhood scars, or other issues), as well as a list of complaints and irritations they haven’t shared yet.
These issues are often composed of wishes, needs, dreams, fears, and other strong feelings. These are in fact diamonds, that, once we are aware of, offer opportunities for growth, maturation, and a deepening of bonds.
The only way to unearth these relational diamonds is by learning the art of the generative fight.

The Art of the Generative Fight

Fighting can be seen as a spiral composed of several way-points, which is inspired by Dan Wile’s work:

1. Attack-Attack

Fighting is actually good for you. Fighting is a way of expressing an entire emotional range, which is essentially feeling alive. It is also a way in which we (unsuccessfully) voice grievances and annoyances that we may not dare to share when things are going smoothly. This is important for thunderstorms, who need to express high intensity emotions in order to regulate themselves. For turtles, this phase is a good chance to widen their emotional range and feel alive with feeling.

The rules of engagement for this phase are:

  • Recognize that you are fighting. You might think you are discussing things, but realizing that you are fighting is an important first step. This understanding will help you be less surprised and frustrated and will help both partners be in "fight" mode.
  • Don’t worry about the "communication commandments." We all know the best practices of good communication: using "I" statements, not blaming, no name-calling, no criticism, and so forth. But when we are in this phase, we are usually flooded with emotions and not using our prefrontal cortex, which can makes it extremely hard to follow the communication rules. So be forgiving when you or your partner blames, stonewalls, criticizes, or name-calls.
  • Remember: This phase is temporary. It is helpful when both partners recognize that they are in the attack-attack stage and that this is the time to let things out. Hold on to the knowledge that this phase will pass. This will also help you avoid catastrophic thinking about the future of your relationship.
  • Consider everything that is said as a rough draft. Because both of you are spewing all kinds of newly formulated grievances, realize that some of what is being said right now is just steam and will pass—but some complaints might actually have a deeper kernel of truth, which in time will help you both go deeper.
  • Don’t try to talk about the fight. In this phase, don’t try to talk about the fight or to negotiate a behavioral change. The attempt will probably fail and frustrate you.

Cool off

When this phase is done, there is usually an organic break, where both partners intuitively seek a time to cool off. It could be a couple of minutes or even hours. Use this time to not think about the fight and regulate yourself: Drink, eat, walk, meditate, exercise, read something.

Most couples end their fight cycle here, after the cool down. But the truth is, we are only a third into the process. What is needed now is a recovery conversation, which gives a sense of resolution to fight, increases intimacy and connectedness, and helps unearth the relational diamonds that surfaced in the attack-attack phase.

2. Admit-Admit

This is a very liminal, sensitive phase in which both partners are encouraged to take responsibility for their part of the fight. We call this Owning Your Shadow (or OwnUrsh!t, for short). The goal of this phase is to help partners re-engage. Here is the opportunity to create a renewed positive, generous, and goodwill-filled relational space and understand the deeper need that was triggered in the fight.

The rules of engagement for this phase:

  • Use "I" statements. Since both partners might still be somewhat sensitive, using "you" statements can often trigger a return to the attack-attack phase. So even though you probably desperately want to criticize your partner for their unjust behavior, focus only on yourself.
    • Break eye contact to help be less self-conscious and go deeper. This will also help your partner listen less defensively.
    • Ask yourself out loud: What was this fight for me? What triggered my response and anger? How did I contribute to this fight?
  • Try to see you partner’s point of view. “If I put myself in your shoes, I can see how my behavior would cause you to .…” Try to connect to your partner's subjective experience in an honest and open way.
  • Find your missing piece. In most fights, there is usually a missing piece, a reason that you couldn’t hear your partner. That missing piece is a relational diamond, a part of your shadow that, once entered into your awareness and owned by you, can help you grow.
    • Get curious and ask yourself: What was my need here that wasn’t met that triggered me so much? What is this sitting on?
    • For some, intuitive writing is a better way to go deeper. In any case, use whatever helps you find your missing piece.
  • Stay grounded. When your partner is using their "I" statements to go deeper, hold on to yourself and remember that their pain is not your responsibility. Give them some wiggle room to speak out loud and meet themselves. Remember that they are vulnerable in this phase, so cut them some slack.
  • Expect regression. Since this is a liminal phase, there is only a little margin for error. Be prepared that one or both of you might get triggered back to attack mode. When this happens, do not despair. You can either suggest another time out until things calm down or try a "Take 2" and rephrase whatever was said in a more "I" statement manner.
  • Break eye contact to help be less self-conscious and go deeper. This will also help your partner listen less defensively.
  • Ask yourself out loud: What was this fight for me? What triggered my response and anger? How did I contribute to this fight?
  • Get curious and ask yourself: What was my need here that wasn’t met that triggered me so much? What is this sitting on?
  • For some, intuitive writing is a better way to go deeper. In any case, use whatever helps you find your missing piece.

3. Collaborate-Collaborate

And now we have reached the third phase on the spiral. In this phase, both partners can "go up to the balcony" and create a space from which they can look at their behavior from a more playful and hopeful place. Since both partners took responsibility for their part and have managed to return to a more regulated state, there is more room for exploration.

Rules of engagement for this phase:

  • Remain playful and laugh about yourself and the relationship. Play is the lubricant of life, and as such it will help you both stay, grow, and learn from these struggles. Be kind, lighthearted, and forgiving towards yourselves. This will strengthen your meaningful endurance and remind you that more fights are yet to come and that you will endure.
  • Piece the puzzle together. Knowing your missing piece, you can now, with the help of your partner, start exploring what they did or said that triggered you.
  • "You" statements are allowed again, because now the partner’s energy is not aimed at jabbing or attacking but rather helping their partner realize what they did that was hurtful.
  • Help your partner understand more about their own missing piece. You can now try to help them by focusing on different aspects of what they are saying. Help them meet themselves.
  • Be kind and empathize with your partner’s missing piece. Usually their missing piece is something important for them and therefore should be something important to you. Ask them how can you help them fulfill their need.
  • Behavioral requests. This is the phase where you can ask your partner for specific behaviors that can help you feel more seen and valued (all the while knowing that they might still refuse, which is still OK).
  • Zoom out, crystalize the diamonds, and brainstorm future solutions. From the balcony, you two can expand your perception and the particulars of the fight and explore deeper issues. Enjoy and stay curious at the newly unearthed relational diamonds. Each new discovery makes your relationship more intimate, exciting, and honest. With these new discoveries about each other you can think forward and see how this relationship can help both of your achieve your goals and fulfill your needs in a better way.

At the end of the day, the fighting and making-up cycle, full of ruptures and repairs, is what makes a relationship strong and deep. So don’t be afraid to step into the crucible. Stay playful, own your shadow, and stay curious, looking for relational diamonds hidden within the fiery battle.



Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to feel: Unlocking the power of emotions to help our kids, ourselves, and our society thrive. Celadon Books.

Wile, D. B. (1993). After the Fight: Using your disagreements to build a stronger relationship. New York, NY: Guildford