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Fighting fair may be a key in keeping relationships healthy


February 12th, 2024 by Ric Hanson

(Radio Iowa) – With Valentine’s Day this week, one expert says the best gift some couples can give each other is a healthier relationship based on honest communication. Amber Sherman, a licensed clinical social worker in Iowa, says all couples have disagreements, but to keep things from spiraling out of control, she suggests couples set ground rules for “fair” fights when they’re not in the middle of one. “Having that conversation when we’re not arguing is a big deal, you know? So we’re going to take some time as a couple just to decide when things get heated, this is how we want to handle it,” Sherman says. “I might take a timeout, I might walk away, we might develop a phrase that kind of checks the other person and says, ‘Nope, this is too much and we’re going to step away and come back to this conversation.'”

She says conflict resolution for a couple is much easier when that couple isn’t already embroiled in a conflict. Disagreements need to be productive, Sherman says, not nasty, which is why some basic rules are really helpful. “Deciding on that outside of an argument is huge, because I think that what happens is, our fight-or-flight instinct kicks in and we can’t make rational decisions,” Sherman says, “and so we really encourage people to decide how to fight fairly when you’re not fighting.” Some people face relationship challenges based on how they were brought up, their personal preferences and personality types, but Sherman says everyone is capable of having a healthy relationship. For some, she says counseling may help, as it takes work.

“Self-reflection is important, whether you’re in a relationship or whether you’re not,” Sherman says, “being able to kind of seek to understand how you tick and what you need in a relationship, or even in the rest of your life, is really something that a therapist or counselor can help you sort through.” Sherman is manager of the Employee Assistance Program at Gundersen Health System, which has clinics in Fayette, Decorah, Waukon, Lansing, Postville and Calmar, and a hospital in West Union.