Couples' Exercise: Unpacking the… | Counseling | Therapy

Couples' Exercise: Unpacking the Fight

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil , LCSW — Therapist, director of intern program, director of rhode island office

Couples' Exercise: Unpacking the Fight image

Are you and your partner having the same fight over and over again? When couples get stuck in a fight that pops up over and over again, it’s because you haven’t yet been able to resolve the underlying issue. Usually, the underlying issue is unaddressed feelings. For example: Sue and David had the same fight about loading the dishwasher - Sue thought David was loading it incorrectly on purpose, and David thought Sue should be grateful for his help. Neither of them understood why such a small thing could turn into a fight that took up so much of their time. On an even more basic level, neither could understand how one comment (i.e. “the bowls belong on the bottom shelf David” or even “can you run the dishwasher, Sue?”) can turn into a knock-out, drag-down fight. The exercise below helped them better understand how they each contributed to escalating the fight, and what opportunities existed for them to flip the script.

Together with your partner choose a recent or repeating fight. Each person should fill out the form below individually before coming back together to discuss.


  • From my perspective, the fight started when ____________________________________.
  • I imagine that from my partner’s perspective, it started when ________________________.
  • I escalated the fight by doing __________________________, because I thought ________________ and felt _________________.
  • I tried to deescalate by __________________________. It made my partner _____________________. I imagine they responded this way because they thought _______________ and felt ___________________.
  • This landed us in the same old fight pattern of ________________________________.


An example of Sue’s completed form is below:

  • From my perspective, the fight started when: David told me to “let it go”. I imagine that from my partner’s perspective, it started when: I told David to move the bowls to the bottom shelf of the dishwasher.
  • I escalated the fight by yelling at David to reload the dishwasher because I thought the bowls wouldn’t get clean otherwise and felt like David doesn’t care about what’s important to me.
  • I tried to deescalate by making a joke about what a psycho I am. It made my partner leave the room. I imagine HE responded this way because HE thought I was setting a trap and felt angry.
  • This landed us in the same old fight pattern of me doing the dishes by myself, getting angrier and angrier, and blowing up at David as we got ready for bed.

Share the above form with your partner. How well did he or she understand your perspective before doing the exercise? How well does he or she understand it now?

If you can process the above form without getting escalated, proceed with the questions below. If you can’t, that is ok! Once a fight has gone on long enough, it can be hard to discuss it without getting sucked right back in. Consider making an appointment with a couples’ therapist, and using a session to process this form.


  • Now that I have processed the fight I currently feel ______________.
  • I realize I may have blocked my partner’s attempts to connect with me or deescalate by _______________________.
  • In the future, a moment when I could interrupt our fight pattern is when _________________________. Something I could do differently is __________________.


You can use the above reflection questions to understand each person’s role in the fight, and to plan out alternative ways for disagreements to go in the future. Above all else, remember that changing your pattern with your partner gets harder the longer you’ve been stuck in it. If you need help changing the way you and your partner argue, book an appointment with a therapist today.

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