LIFEadvice: Inappropriate 'fighting' behavior in a relationship?

LIFEadvice: Inappropriate 'fighting' behavior in a relationship?

By Kimberly Giles, Contributor | Posted - Apr. 30, 2012 at 6:15 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Life is a complicated and messy endeavor. Life Coach Kim Giles is here to help you with simple, principle-based solutions to the challenges you face. Coach Kim will empower you to get along with others and become the best you.


I have been with a man for three years. I really love him, but there is a lot of fighting in our relationship. I’ve tried to get him to change and to some degree he has, but there are times he still treats me badly. The thing is, there are other times when he is really wonderful. How long do I hang on, forgive him and try to make this work? When is behavior bad enough that I should walk away?


It depends on what kind of behavior we are talking about. If the behavior is inappropriate or abusive and he refuses professional help, you should probably leave the relationship now.

I am going to give you three categories of relationship “fighting” behavior, along with some suggestions for dealing with each. You definitely need to know what behavior is unacceptable behavior and grounds for leaving, and what would be considered normal.

Everyone has disagreements, but you must be able to have mature, rational conversations about these disagreements. You should feel safe and respected and, ideally, it should be you and your partner against the problem, not against each other.


Here are the three "fighting" behavior categories:

1. Garden-variety bad behavior caused by fear and stress, which you could choose to ignore.

Most of these offenses you should let go, without even bringing them up to your partner. No one is perfect and everyone will have a bad day on occasion, snap, lose their temper or say something stupid. When your partner offends you with this kind of behavior, don’t make a big deal about it. Forgive them and let it go. You will forgive them because you want your small “mess-ups” to be forgiven too. If you bring up every little thing your partner does wrong, you will kill the relationship.

2. Bad behavior that happens too often and is hurtful, harsh or unkind should be brought up and worked through.

This behavior should not be ignored. This category includes unintentionally hurting your feelings, yelling on occasion, being inconsiderate or unkind, making jokes at your expense, or being unfair or selfish. If these behaviors show up, you should have a mutually validating conversation about them and ask your spouse to treat you differently in the future. (If your partner isn't willing to change these behaviors and refuses professional help, you may find yourself in category three.)

3.Bad behavior that should not be tolerated.

The following types of behavior are unacceptable:
  • Calling you names
  • Repeatedly putting you down
  • Intentionally hurting your feelings
  • Belittling you on a regular basis
  • Ignoring you or punishing you
  • Insulting you
  • Lying to you
  • Intimidating or threatening you
  • Breaking promises
  • Breaking things
  • Correcting everything you say
  • Cutting you off from your family and friends
  • Forcing you to own the responsibility for all the problems
  • Checking up on you and being overly suspicious
  • Nitpicking
  • Verbal intimidation
  • Lengthy interrogations
  • Refusing to honor your time-out request
  • Refusing to listen to your point of view
  • Temper tantrums to get what they want
  • Out of control or irrational behavior and physical violence of any kind whatsoever

Your partner is not changing his inappropriate behavior from Category Two, or his behavior has escalated to the behavior described on the right.

Many of these behaviors are clinical symptoms of emotional abuse. You can read more about the symptoms online.

The following relationship rules may also help:

Relationship Rule:If your partner’s bad behavior is something you can truly let go and forgive (never to think about or bring up again), then you should. If you are going to hold onto this offense and let it fester, building up resentment toward your partner, adding it to the growing laundry list of his faults, then you should bring it up and work through it.

Relationship Rule:You must bring up offenses in a mature and loving way. This should not be about proving your spouse is the bad guy or proving you are right. These conversations must be about improving your relationship because you love each other. (Read about having validating conversations in my article about getting your spouse to treat you better.) You should never attack your partner nor focus on just their past mistakes. Instead, focus on the different behavior you want to see in the future.

Relationship Rule:You must have validating conversations where each partner gets a chance to have his say, speak his truth and express his feelings without interruption. Both should feel that the other honors and respects their right to have their opinion, even if they disagree with it. Then together, the couple should create a win/win, compromise solution.

If you cannot find a win/win solution on your own, you could ask a third party to meet with you and help find a compromise. A religious leader, coach or counselor could help with that.

Relationship Rule:Needing some time and space to process and think things through is appropriate “fighting” behavior. Couples must have the right to call a “time out” and have that request honored. This is not about giving your partner the silent treatment or ignoring him; that is immature behavior. This is about calling a “time out” so you can calm down and get accurate in your thinking. Agree on a “time out” rule which both parties will honor.

In your case, it sounds like it might be time to move on, but only you are intitled to that answer. Listen to your inner truth and it will tell you what's right for you.

Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of and She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in self esteem.

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