Can There Be A Good Fight?

Lisa May, Executive Director, Live the Life South Florida

Good Fight, Bad Fight, Dirty Fight… Can there be such a thing as a good fight? The easiest way to determine that answer is how you feel after the battle is over? Bad feelings usually indicate that you’ve had a bad or dirty fight, and good feelings point to you had a fair fight. Good feelings, greater closeness, and more clarity open the door to resolution and reconciliation.

Sadly, whether I’m teaching in a church or the community, about 50 percent of us dirty fight. Why? There are many reasons, but most often disagreements gone bad can be attributed in part to biology.

I’ve shared this before, but let’s revisit the basics of the relational brain; the neocortex, the limbic system, and the brain stem. The neocortex is the thinking, reasoning part of the brain. The limbic system houses our emotions, and the brain stem is our survival mode. When we’re hot mad or “low brain,” the limbic system (emotion) takes over the neocortex, the “high brain” or thinking and reasonable part of the brain. When we enter into an argument while our emotions are peaked, we don’t have the natural ability to think clearly. We begin operating in what we refer to as “low brain. ”

What happens in low brain? We usually dirty fight. Dirty fighting is whenever you use EITHER active; HEAVY HANDED control tactics or PASSIVE- AGGRESSIVE tactics to resolve an issue. It’s a form of manipulation, an attempt to control the other person to get what you want. The tactics calculated so your spouse will CHANGE and give you what you want.




Heavy handed


Bullying (exploding, intimidating)



Mocking, mimicking

Counter accusations

Bringing up more than one issue17





Playing poor me


Playing confused


Dragging your feet

Keeping score

Making excuses




There’s no resolution to the issue when dirty fighting tactics are used, and very often we respond with our dirty fighting tactics and point the finger of blame at the other person. You may get what you want, but it won’t come from the heart, and it will be a temporary fix rather than resolution or reconciliation.


How do we stay in High Brain?

You can’t change your spouse, but you can take responsibility, change your behavior, and admit that you’re part of the problem. People tend to criticize their spouse most loudly in the area where they have the deepest emotional need. So how do we stay in the high brain when we’re moving toward “hot mad”?

  • Pray before you have a conversation that has potential conflict and take a moment for self-examination. Matthew 7:3 asks us “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brothers’ eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
  • Apply the HALT principle. Don’t have significant conversations when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. HALT and reschedule the conversation at a mutually convenient time.
  • Look through the lens of “US.” There’s you, me and “US.” US is more important than you or me. US is who you want to win the disagreement.
  • Take a walk, exercise, run some errands and reconvene at an agreed-upon time.
  • Create a signal or word that you both agree to use, symbolizing you’re moving into the dirty fighting zone.
  • As Bob Newhart counseled his client, STOP IT!

Most couples are surprised to discover that if they eliminate dirty fighting, they can talk about issues that have been “too hot to handle” in the past without it escalating to a knockdown, drag-out battle. Keep in mind that about 80 percent of problems don’t need to be solved; they need to be understood. The goal is reconciliation, even if you’ve not found the resolution.

How does reconciliation make a good fight?

Lastly, I just finished reading a book by Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. I read a chapter a day in my quiet time, and I highly recommend it. Keller closes the last chapter with a list of questions we should ponder.

  1. Do I leave a trail of sadness or gladness?
  2. Is my memory, in other people’s minds, entwined with mercy and goodness, or would they rather forget me altogether?
  3. Do I deposit a blessing, or am I a bane to others?
  4. Is my life a pleasure to people or a pain?
  5. Do I leave behind peace in lives or turmoil?
  6. Do I leave behind forgiveness or bitterness?
  7. Do I leave behind contentment or conflict?
  8. Do I leave behind flowers of joy or frustration?
  9. Do I leave behind love or rancor?
  10. Do I extend judgment or mercy?


“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace…” (Isaiah 52:7).


Lisa May is the Executive Director of Live the Life South Florida etc. She can be reached at [email protected] or by mail at 5110 N. Federal Hwy. Suite 102, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308  or visit

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