04/28/2016 04:42 pm ET

3 Fights That Can Make or Break Your Relationship and What You Can Do About Them

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Dating or on the brink of divorce, conflict can either bring you closer or pull you apart. If you want a robust, dynamic relationship that evolves over time, then be prepared for great fights. Unfortunately, most people don't know how to fight -- or don't fight enough, or at all! They learn about conflict resolution rather than conflict completion. Here are three fights that can make or break your relationship and several Rules of Engagement to guide you through them.

1. The Blame Game

Here the fight is over who is at fault -- for a lousy vacation, a crummy restaurant choice, an obnoxious visitor overstaying her welcome, or the argument itself. There's a big difference between scapegoating and figuring out why something went wrong. The former is a vindictive activity while the latter is a learning exercise. Getting caught in the Blame Game often results in endless loops of dissatisfaction with no real change.

Want to address the Blame Game directly? Use these two Rules of Engagement: 1) no one gets more than 50% of the blame for any issue, and 2) each person is 100% responsible for their own satisfaction. You may start an argument, but your partner may be the one who responded counterproductively, exacerbating the discord. You are always a participant in the drama or upset, even if the other person is working something through. And, it is not your partner's responsibility to make you happy. It is yours alone though of course we should support our partners. If you want something different, it is up to you to make it happen, that is taking 100% responsibility for your happiness.

2. Up and Down Toilet Seats and Other Domestic Disputes

Petty squabbles such as disagreements about chores, toilet seats, and neglected and unappreciated Cinder(f)ellas cover a range of domestic disputes from who's washing the dishes, picking up the kids, making dinner, and doing the laundry to arguing over how chores should be done. These are often fights over the distribution of duties or minimizing and demeaning each other's domestic contributions. There are power and control struggles at unconscious levels in all relationships that often play out in squabbles over who does what or how tasks should be done. If you bicker without resolution or one of you gives in to end the fighting, nothing is learned. Rather than drag the relationship down, use these skirmishes for relationship growth, to become closer.

One Rule of Engagement that can help you in the middle of the fray is to acknowledge the truth always. Too often, fights rage on with a great deal of truth being said on both sides, but neither you nor your partner acknowledges it. Remarkably, many fights end when one person acknowledges the truth of what the uncorrected proof other one is saying, because the truth is often what the person is fighting for -- they yearn to be affirmed. A rule of thumb: verbally acknowledge any time your partner says something that is true -- even when you are mad and don't want to give him or her the satisfaction

3. Dueling Over Dollars

Financial feuds -- whether about making money, spending it, using it the way you want, managing it (or not) -- are volatile topics for many couples. These fights range from "Are you crazy? We can't afford that!" to "You're such a tightwad!" Or, it may begin innocently enough, with one person saying out of concern, "Why don't you ask for a raise?" But concern can easily segue into anger when the response to the question fails to satisfy: "You're just not motivated to get ahead and make something of yourself." Money -- lack of it, making more of it, how it's spent or managed -- may be a valid concern; however, money is only the surface subject of the argument. Money is powerfully symbolic of many diverse things depending on the individual. These fights often mask issues of self-worth, values, or a sense of security. They can stem from a desire to be appreciated, other unmet desires such as keeping up with the Joneses, or hunger for social affirmation. We all want to be loved, and we easily make the mistake of equating enough money with enough love.

A Rule of Engagement to help break through to the deeper yearning is to learn to "fight for not against." Your partner may be doing things that irritate you or even hurt, but as challenging as it might be, there is a deeper yearning that must be affirmed. Too often, we fight defensively or in counterproductive ways. We get sidetracked on who-said-what battles. This rule of engagement means you fight for something other than just asserting your perspective or fighting against your partner. You recognize and own what you want and yearn for and express yourself fully and responsibly -- and often, vulnerably.

Engage productively in these three fights with these rules of engagements and you are setting a solid foundation for relationship success!

To learn more about the Rules of Engagement, please visit

© 2016 Judith Wright EdD and Bob Wright EdD, authors of The Heart of the Fight

Author Bios
Judith Wright, EdD
, co-author of The Heart of the Fight, is a world-renowned couples and lifestyles coach, speaker, consultant, professor, and best-selling author. She has appeared on 20/20, Oprah, Good Morning America, and Today.

Bob Wright, EdD, co-author of The Heart of the Fight, is an internationally recognized visionary, speaker, educator, consultant, professor, and best-selling author. He is recognized as a top coach by Crain's Business.

The Wrights founded the dynamic and innovative couples program at the Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential. For more information please visit