By Sarah Foster Special to Published Nov 28, 2009 at 3:13 PM

Learning to fight like a champ in a relationship is tricky business. It's easy, in the heat of debate, to say things you wish you hadn't or that you don't mean. Topics of argument that may seem like no big deal to one party can feel catastrophic to the other and while there is no fail safe way to avoid arguments in a relationship, you should choose your battles and your weapons wisely.

Fighting with someone you care about can be really painful and difficult because, though you may be fighting about something important, it can be hard to do so without getting really personal. When people feel attacked or uncomfortable, as is often the case in couples' arguments, using an individual's insecurities and private life against them is often a defense mechanism, one that rarely ends well.

Throwing someone's insecurities in their face instantly takes the fight to another level where you each become more focused on retaliating against the other person than making your point. Stick to the task at hand and avoid pushing someone's buttons simply to knock them down a peg.

Keeping a cool head can be the hardest part when having a fight, but it can also be the defining moment between reasonable fight and battle royal.

Find a happy medium where you fight about what makes sense and you brush off the stuff that really doesn't matter. Fighting with your brain rather than with your emotions is a lot easier said than done, but it can really make a difference in how you deal with the very typical issues in your relationship. 

Here are a few more tips to getting through a spat with your significant other:

If you can feel a fight brewing, try to keep things in perspective: Think things through and decide how big an issue it truly needs to be. Screaming should be reserved for serious deal breaking, relationship-ending events and misbehavior and unless you just caught he or she in the act of something really vile, don't fight in public. That includes in front of friends or family. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, when you look back on this fight, how will you have wished you'd conducted yourself and aim for that.

Leave the past in the past:  Bringing up issues from the past during a fight is obnoxious and pointless. If it was that big an issue you should have brought it up at that time or if something is bothering you that happened a while ago, bring it up for discussion at another time not during a fight about something current.

Women tend to do this because we have the amazing ability to remember every little thing our partner has done that's ever ticked us off. Your argument immediately looses ground when you have to rely on something that happened three months ago to make your point. However, if what you are arguing about is a reoccurring problem, then bringing up past events makes sense, but that's the only time. Keep your references short and specific.

Be clear and to the point:  Your brain has a chance to wrap around the reality of the situation and you can add up the facts without the pressure of being in the moment. A few hours or depending on the topic, a day or so without discussing the matter can be helpful. However leaving things very angry and unclear where you stand can be cause for some ugly miscommunication. Say that you need a little time to get your thoughts straight but that you would like to talk again when things have cooled down. Even if it's just ten minutes you've each had time to breathe and work through in your own mind how you'd like the rest of the conversation to proceed. Often times you'll realize that what felt like an overwhelming and stressful issue can be solved rather easily after you've both had time to process it.

Temper tantrums are for those under the age of five: There is nothing worse than being in a relationship with someone that thinks screaming, sobbing or throwing things; especially in public is a reasonable way to argue. Those people are used to getting whatever they want because anyone would rather just give in for the sake of shutting them up than face the embarrassment of another public freak session. It makes everyone around you uncomfortable and a lot less likely to want to hang out with the two of you anytime soon. Again, unless you catch him or her in a compromising position, save the fighting for when you are alone. When it comes to tantrum throwers, it's best to get out as soon as possible. If that behavior wasn't curbed in early childhood it's never going to be and you don't want to be stuck with an adult that acts like a brat at a toy store. Get out and fast.

Take a hint from those know-it-all therapists and tell the person how you feel: When arguing it's so easy to go from talking about something that's bothering you to running down a laundry list of the other persons faults. A fight about who did the dishes last shouldn't turn into a knock down drag out fight about intrusive in laws or lack of proper upbringing. Say what you mean and mean what you say and stick to that. Talk about how something makes you feel without charging the other person with tons of accusations or generalizations. If he or she pissed you off by not picking up their dirty socks once or twice, don't turn that into, "you NEVER pick up your damn socks!" When you do that you are automatically pushing the solution to your initial problem way to the back burner and making the other person really defensive and unhappy in the process. Plus you'll look back on the fight and realize you sound way out of control.

Say something: I'm the type of person that when I argue I like to have all my ducks in a row and my closing argument already drafted, well versed and proofread a few dozen times. I don't like to open my mouth just for the sake of having sound come out. I don't feel this is a fault on my part except that it can be very confusing and misjudged by the other person. It can be better to say something than nothing, but if you aren't ready to talk things out, say so to let the other person know you aren't just sitting there wondering if you remembered to DVR Mad Men. That's not to say keep things bottled up. Sure letting the little things slide when they really don't need to be a big debate is a sign of maturity in a relationship, but allowing someone to walk all over you or constantly pushing things down and refusing to address them will leave you resentful and ready to blow at the slightest spark. And it doesn't help your partner out at all. If you don't tell someone, even in the nicest way, that something they are doing is bothering you or upsetting you, you cannot expect him or her to know what the hell you are talking about when you completely lose it over the smallest misstep.

Realize that fights are normal: You know those couples that claim they never fight about anything? They are either lying because they actually fight all the time and are really insecure about it, or they are a huge ticking relationship time bomb. Fighting all the time isn't any healthier. No one enjoys being around a couple that is constantly criticizing or arguing. (Again, this makes for some intensely awkward moments among your friends or family.

Even if they deny it, they are judging the hell out of the two of you and yes, they absolutely know who they think is right and who's wrong. So keep that in mind the next time your drama buzzer goes off and you think a big public meltdown is the best way to solve your problems.)

If that's you it may be time to consider a more drastic move.

It's no fun to fight, especially with someone you care deeply for and no one should spend their time in constant argument. It's hard on your stress levels, your mind, your emotions and your heart and fighting can have some pretty immediate effects on your body as well.

Ever have a huge fight and then feel like you need to sleep for a week or so? There is no doubt it takes its toll.

Two people are never going to agree on everything or always get along, so agree to disagree, argue about the big things and keep your head on straight. Hopefully you're in this relationship because you really want to be so don't come out of the gates swinging and expect to have a productive fight.

It all comes down to communication and compatibility. No one is good at it all the time, but the majority of us can be good at it much of the time if we try.

Talk; open your mouth if something is bothering you, but don't open your mouth every two minutes to point out every fault the other person may have. That's nitpicking and it's incredibly annoying.

Don't repress what feels important to you only to end up blurting out of nowhere "you NEVER support me, EVER!" If you are that pissed off about your relationship you have a lot more to consider.

Fighting on occasion is definitely normal and if you can be mature and reasonable about it fighting can teach you a lot about yourself and the strength of your relationship. And lastly, when you know you are wrong, be quick to apologize and be sincere about it. There is almost nothing harder than admitting you are wrong but you'll save both of you a lot of time if you genuinely own up to it.


Sarah Foster Special to

No, the sex columnist's real name is not Sarah Foster. (Foster is the model/actress that played an ex-lover of Vincent Chase in the first season of "Entourage.") In reality, our sex columnist is a Wisconsin native with a degree in journalism and a knack for getting people to talk to her.

Sarah never considered herself an "above average" listener. Others, however, seem to think differently. Perhaps she has a sympathetic tone or expression that compels people to share their lives and secrets with her despite how little they know her. Everyone from the girl that does her hair to people in line at the grocery store routinely spill the details of their lives and relationships to Sarah, unprompted but typically not unwanted. It’s strange to her that people would do this, but she doesn’t mind. Sarah likes that she can give advice even if it is to complete strangers.

So why the pseudonym? Simple. People tell Sarah these things because for some reason they trust her. They believe she cares and therefore will keep their secrets in a locked vault the same way a best friend or therapist would. Sarah won't name names, but that vault is now unlocked.