The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer

The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer

by Dr. Leslie Parrott, Dr. Les Parrott

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NYT best-selling authors Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott reveal new techniques based on extensive research that help couples manage conflict constructively - that's the "good fight."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617951787
Publisher: Worthy
Publication date: 04/01/2013
Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 347,730
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

New York Times bestsellers Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are founders of and the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their best-selling books include Love Talk, Crazy Good Sex and the award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. Their work has been featured in the New York Times and USA Today and on CNN, Good Morning America and Oprah.

Read an Excerpt

The Good Fight

How Conflict Can Bring You Closer

By Les Parrott, Leslie Parrott


Copyright © 2013 Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61795-178-7



No pressure, no diamonds.


We had just completed two days of speaking to an exuberant group of couples in the southeast end of London. The venue was only two blocks from the famed Abbey Road Studios where tourists take countless photos of themselves walking over the zebra crossing to replicate the cover of the Beatles' 1969 Abbey Road album.

Following our seminar, we ambled over to the crossing and did our own imitations of Paul and Ringo. We had the time because we were staying over a couple of days to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Our boys were safe at home in Seattle with their grandmother, so we were footloose and carefree—just the two of us.

Wedding anniversaries are big occasions with us, so we splurged shamelessly. A nice hotel, a leisurely brunch after waking without an alarm clock, window-shopping on Oxford Street, high tea at Fortnum & Mason in the afternoon, a dinner of prime rib and Yorkshire pudding and cherries jubilee that night at the Savoy Grill. Then, under a clear night sky, we strolled hand-in-hand along Westminster Bridge while taking in the majesty of Big Ben, London's iconic landmark. Extravagant? Luxurious? Delicious? Romantic? Yes, all of the above. The entire experience was idyllic—one for the memory books.

And then, suddenly, without warning, it happened.

"I want to buy a couple of sweatshirts for the boys," Leslie said.

"Um, hmm," I replied, watching people hop onto the back of a bus. "Why don't we have double-decker buses in Seattle?"

"Did you hear me?" Leslie said a bit sternly.

"Sure. You want to buy something for the boys."

"Do you remember where we saw those red ones near the hotel?"

"They're all over the place," I said, pointing to a line of red buses.

"I'm talking about sweatshirts," said Leslie. "Do you think they'd still be open this late?"

"I'm pretty sure we can't fit two big sweatshirts into our suitcase. Besides, do you think they really need more sweatshirts?"

Sensing she was going to have to argue a strong case for buying the sweatshirts, Leslie replied with an edge in her voice, "I'm not going home without something for the boys."

"Fine," I replied, thinking we could still steer this conversation away from the brink. "How about something easier to pack?"

"They love those hooded sweatshirts. Are you going to help me find them or not?" Leslie abruptly unfolded a map of the city.

"I'm just saying—"

"I know what you're saying!"

"Oh, really?" I said with a caustic tone. "What am I saying?"

Leslie, having found something on the map—or just pretending she had—started to walk quickly, a couple of paces in front of me, without saying anything.

"Why are you walking so fast?" I asked as if I didn't know.

"Angry energy," she snapped without skipping a beat.

"Angry energy?" I asked with genuine intrigue and a little grin in my voice. It was a pretty astute comment for someone so perturbed.

She didn't answer. We walked in silence for a few paces, Leslie marching two steps ahead of me.

At the end of the block, waiting for a traffic signal to change, she said, "Maybe we should stop in there for a while." She pointed to a sign on an historic building: Cabinet War Rooms.

I smiled.

She smiled back.

That was it.

We found a turning point. The icy tension of our brief spat was about to thaw. Without saying another word, we held hands again and kept walking the better part of the block. The pressure was off, but we needed a moment to let our hearts recalibrate.

After a few more strides, Leslie squeezed my hand to say she was with me. I got the message and squeezed back.

We came to Downing Street. "Shall we see if the prime minister is in?" I asked.

"He's probably managing an international conflict somewhere," she said, knowing she was lobbing me an easy one.

"Or maybe one with his wife," I quipped.

We walked a few more steps and turned the corner, literally and metaphorically.

"We did a nice job there," Leslie said, still holding my hand.

I knew exactly what she meant.

We were quietly congratulating ourselves on putting the kibosh on what could have become a full-fledged fight. In spite of the flare-up, we were still an "us." We'd staved off a quarrel that was looking to come between us. We'd turned around our tiny tiff in just a few moments, and we knew we were stronger because of it. Early in our marriage, the same kind of quarrel could have snowballed into a brawl that would have spoiled the whole trip. One of us would have resorted to fighting dirty, sabotaging the solution with sanctimonious blame or upping the ante by sniping at the other's character.

Not now. We've gotten wise to the ways of the marital street fight. We've learned to cut it down before it cuts us up. No blood. No scars. Not even a scratch. We've learned a better way that actually draws us closer. In short, we've learned the difference between fighting with honor and fighting without it. The former is always better.


We all know that conflict has the potential to inflict hurt, resentment, and stress. It can escalate hostility and rob couples of valuable time and energy. It depletes intimacy and pulls otherwise loving couples apart.

Our little spat in London was primed to do exactly that. We were doing fine one moment, but in a flash we were at odds with each other. How could that happen? We were enjoying what was surely one of the best days we could ever dream of, and suddenly, out of nowhere, we were sideswiped by a silly squabble neither of us saw coming.

Over the years we've done enough postmortems on our potential fights that we've come to call the practice a "conversational autopsy." Here's how each of us sized up this one:

Leslie: From my perspective, Les didn't know that, as the evening grew later, a problem was dawning on me: I was about to run out of time to get something nice for our boys. Not only that, they both needed a sweatshirt for the start of school, and I knew they'd love the ones I'd seen in a shop window earlier. I hadn't mentioned this to Les, so it wasn't on his radar. It wasn't fair for me to expect him to know of my concern. But that's not all. Les didn't know I was about five days premenstrual. At the time, that fact didn't register with me either.

Les: From my perspective, I was surprised that Leslie had abruptly become task-oriented when we were just enjoying the relaxing evening. When she said she wasn't going home without getting something for our boys, I felt that she was saying I didn't care about bringing our boys a present they would enjoy. I felt judged. But what she really meant was that she'd already determined what would be best for them and assumed I'd go along with it. Of course, it never dawned on me that her hormones might be contributing to the mix.

All those factors from our perspectives added to the mysterious amalgamation of motives, perceptions, and inferences that created unexpected tension between us. At least, that's the best we can make of it in retrospect. Maybe that's why it happened or maybe not. The bottom line is that these little land mines erupt without notice on a regular basis for every couple. It's a given. What matters is how we deal with them.

We haven't always known how to deal with our conflicts, and we've had some real humdingers along the way. Like the fight that ensued in our car on a Saturday morning while we were running errands. That one didn't end until the next day. The conflict? It was a circular conversation over who was pulling more weight on the home front. In short, it was a chore war, and each of us had drawn a battle line. We both dug in our heels and were dead set on proving the other person wrong.

"It would be nice if you could actually lend a hand on occasion," Leslie said sardonically.

"Seriously?!" Les retorted. "You're actually going to say I don't help out?"

"Do I need to?"


"Okay, then, you don't help out."

"What do you want me to do that I'm not doing?" Les asked the question as if Leslie would have to think long and hard to answer it. She didn't.

"How many do you want?


"Let's start with taking out the trash."

"I do take it out!"

"Then why did we have a heaping pile of rubbish in our garage for the past two weeks?"

"Oh, that's rich! You know I was traveling and—"

"And you didn't take it out before you left."

We jabbered on like this throughout the day, with accusations hop-scotching around to various chores: cleaning bathrooms, yard work, and so on. When we weren't talking about it, we were each building up our case and reloading our ammunition for the moment the battle engaged once more. Each of us was far more concerned with winning the fight than resolving it. We were in a serious power struggle, a world-class game of blame, and we were dangerously close to belittling each other with true contempt. In short, we were having an honest-to-goodness bad fight. Except there wasn't anything honest or good about it.

At the time, we didn't really know it was a bad fight, because early in our marriage we didn't know there was a distinction between a good fight and a bad one. We just thought a fight was a fight. But that's far from the truth.

To deal effectively with any conflict, we've got to know the difference between a good fight and a bad fight.


Professionals formerly believed that couples who were more prone to arguments were the least satisfied with their marriage. The studies that led to those findings, however, failed to distinguish among the kinds of fights the couples were having. Truth be told, the difference between a marriage that grows happier and one that grows more miserable is not whether they fight but how they fight.

All fights are not created equal. A good fight, in contrast to a bad fight, is helpful, not hurtful. It is positive, not negative. A good fight stays clean, but a bad fight gets dirty. According to researchers at the University of Utah, 93 percent of couples who fight dirty will be divorced within ten years. A study at Ohio State University showed that unhealthy marital arguments contribute significantly to a higher risk of heart attacks, headaches, back pain, and a whole slew of other health problems, not to mention unhappiness. In the end, bad fights lead to marriages that are barely breathing and will eventually die. In fact, researchers can now predict with 94 percent accuracy whether or not a couple will stay together based solely on how they fight. Not whether they fight, but how they fight.

The line separating good fights from bad is not fuzzy. Research makes the difference clear, and the following chart lays it out plainly.

Arguments where one partner or the other becomes defensive or stubborn or withdraws are particularly destructive. Belittling and blame are also toxic. The list of qualities that make up a bad fight could go on and on, but if you boil the essence of a bad fight down to a single ingredient and sum it all up in a word, it would have to be pride.


In the book Love in the Time of Cholera, Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez portrays a marriage that disintegrates over a bar of soap. It was the wife's job to keep the house in order, including the towels, toilet paper, and soap in the bathroom. One day she forgot to replace the soap. Her husband exaggerated the oversight: "I've been bathing for almost a week without any soap." Although she had indeed forgotten, she vigorously denied forgetting to replace the soap. Her pride was at stake, and she would not back down. For the next seven months they slept in separate rooms and ate in silence. Their marriage suffered a meltdown.

"Even when they were old and placid," writes Márquez, "they were very careful about bringing it up, for the barely healed wounds could begin to bleed again as if they had been inflicted only yesterday." How can a bar of soap ruin a marriage? The answer is simple: pride. Both husband and wife were hanging on to it with a vise grip. The husband wouldn't overlook an offense; the wife wouldn't admit a mistake. Both refused to let go of their need to win, to show the other that they were superior.

The Bible makes it plain: "Pride leads to conflict." It's that simple. A prideful spirit keeps us from cooperating, flexing, respecting, compromising, and resolving. Instead, it fuels defensiveness and discord. It stands in the way of saying "I'm sorry." It lives by the motto "The only unfair fight is the one you lose." Self-centered pride is at the heart of every bad fight.

Research shows that when pride sets in, a partner will continue an argument 34 percent of the time even if he knows he's wrong or can't remember what the fight was about. A full 74 percent will fight on even if they feel "it's a losing battle."

Let's be clear: healthy pride (the pleasant emotion of being pleased by our work) is quite different from unhealthy pridefulness in which our egos are bloated. The latter is laced with arrogance and conceit. That's what we're talking about here.

We don't have to be egomaniacs to suffer from unhealthy pride. It has a way of secretly seeping into the crevices of our conflicts even when we are consciously inclined to avoid it. That's what makes it so toxic and devious. "Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves," said Carl Jung. "But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune."

You know the feeling of being out of tune. We all do. It's born of the tension between being the kind of person we want to be and our fear of being snookered. We don't want to be prideful, but we also don't want to be duped. The tension between those two concerns is what causes pride to kick in. That's when we realize, deep down, that we've taken the low road. More often than not, this sinking feeling even becomes more difficult to admit to ourselves, let alone our spouse, so we accede to our pride and perpetuate the conflict.

The antidote to unhealthy pride is, of course, humility. The word from which we get humility literally means "from the earth." In other words, humility steps off its high horse to stand on the earth—to become common and lowly. Humility isn't for cowards. It's risky. Humility makes us vulnerable to being played or to being made to look the fool. But it also makes possible everything else we truly want to be. Seventeenth-century British author William Gurnall said, "Humility is the necessary veil to all other graces." Without humility, it's nearly impossible to engender kindness and warmth with our spouse. Without humility, it's impossible to fight a good fight, the kind that brings you closer together.


The cornerstone of every physician's education is anatomy. The word anatomy dates back to at least 1600 BC, and it literally means "to open up." Without having opened up human bodies to gain an understanding of human anatomy, it would be impossible for doctors to practice good medicine. In the same way, couples cannot practice good fighting until we understand the substance of a good fight. We need to open it up and see what it's made of.

The following is not an exhaustive list of what makes up a good fight, but it's a look at four critical elements—the central, innermost essentials. They are easy to remember because their initials form an acronym that spells CORE: Cooperation, Ownership, Respect, and Empathy.

Cooperation: Good Fighters Fight for a Win-Win

A study reported in Psychological Science discovered that, when it comes to couples, the best arguers are those who work in tandem with their partner. According to the study, the person who says "we" the most during an argument suggests the best solutions. The study cited researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who used statistical analysis to study 59 couples. Spouses who used second-person pronouns (you) tended toward negativity in interactions. Those making use of first-person plural pronouns (we) provided positive solutions to problems.

The study concluded: "'We'-users may have a sense of shared interest that sparks compromise and other ideas pleasing to both partners. 'You'-sayers, on the contrary, tend to criticize, disagree, justify, and otherwise team with negativity."

How do you cultivate a cooperative spirit when a conflict heats up? It can be a challenge. The good news is that cooperation is a skill set; that is, it can be learned. The more you practice it, the easier it gets. The key to cooperation is found in reframing a conflict from win-lose to win-win. Your conflict is not a competition. Your marriage is not a zero-sum game. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that seeks mutual benefit. It's an attitude that says, "If you win, I win too." It's committed to finding solutions that benefit both sides of a dispute. There's a sense of "we" in win-win.


Excerpted from The Good Fight by Les Parrott, Leslie Parrott. Copyright © 2013 Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


INTRODUCTION: When the Fur Flies,
CHAPTER 1: What Most Couples Don't Know About Conflict,
CHAPTER 2: The Surprising Benefits of a Good Fight,
CHAPTER 3: What You're Really Fighting About,
CHAPTER 4: What Is Your Conflict Quotient?,
CHAPTER 5: The Rules of Fight Club,
CHAPTER 6: Uncovering Your Personal Fight Type,
CHAPTER 7: Leveraging Your Fight Types Together,
CHAPTER 8: Fighting Through the Big Five,
CHAPTER 9: The Fight That Can Save Your Marriage,
CONCLUSION: Keeping the Peace,
APPENDIX: Controlling Anger Before It Controls You,

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