Two Rules for Cultivating Ownership During a Fight

We’ve said it time and time again; good fighters own their proverbial piece of the conflict pie. They know that criticism is for cowards. They are also aware that blame and shame never lead to positive outcomes. Good fighters take a bold step and admit when they’ve made a mistake.

In any fight, it’s important to understand that it’s not who is wrong but what is wrong that counts. And good fighters know this. If you are lacking the tools you need to own your piece of the pie, then this post is for you. There are two rules for cultivating this kind of ownership, and we are discussing them today. Let’s dive in.

Rule One: Apologize When You Mean It

The word apology literally means “an account or story.” This means a genuine apology entails a story of your wrongdoing and regret. When you apologize half-heartedly, prematurely, or without real regret, then the contrition is sucked right out of it. Saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. Your heart must be in it.

One of the most constant decisions you should make in your life is knowing when you are wrong and offering a genuine apology. Saying “I am sorry” has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds, and heal broken hearts. It has the power to disarm your spouse of anger and prevent further misunderstandings. While a sincere apology cannot undo past actions, it can undo the negative effects of those actions.

How to Say I’m Sorry Effectively

On the surface, apologizing seems relatively easy. It simply involves saying those two little words, “I’m sorry.” But in order to apologize effectively, it involves much more. Here are some tips you can use when you say “I’m sorry.” First, remember that apologizing involves the three R’s.

1. Responsibility: “I know I hurt your feelings.”
2. Regret: “I feel terrible that I hurt you.”
3. Remedy: “I won’t do it again.”

Unless your apology contains all three R’s, your spouse may sense that something is missing.

Another good rule of thumb is to also keep your apologies brief. Apologizing over and over again will seem disingenuous. Finally, steer clear of excuses! When you try to explain your mistake, it sounds like self-justification. This will only detract from your remorse.

Rule Two: Practice Turning Criticism Into Complaints

Do you ever catch yourself making snarky comments in your marriage? We’ve all been guilty. Humans are prone to criticism and when we are upset, irritated or frustrated we generally let it be known. Critical comments are fuel for a fight. Studies show that 96 percent of the time, the way a discussion starts will predict the end. When a discussion starts with a snarky comment, it will usually end badly.

It’s important to remember that criticism and complaints are two very different remarks. Critical comments almost always begin with “you.” Complaining on the other hand almost always begins with “I.” Here are examples:

Criticism: “You’re so selfish, do you ever think of my needs?”
Complaint: “I feel disappointed when I think you will help me and then you say you are too tired.”

It may seem like a subtle change, but to the person on the receiving end, the difference between criticism and complaints are like night and day. By owning your feelings, rather than projecting your frustrations, you are inviting a productive conversation and resolution!

Fights do happen. It’s when we have the tools to have a “good fight” that we can end things on a positive note. By keeping in mind the two rules: apologizing when you mean it, and practice turning criticism into complaints, you will be well on your way to coming up with a healthy solution.

Check out our book The Good Fight for more insight. Also, keep an eye on our events page for “Fight Night” live. We hope to come to an area near you soon!

What rules or methods do you and your spouse use to keep your fights fair? We’d love to hear from you!


  • Emmanuel John Fyaktu says:


  • Vernon Brant says:

    Great word. I’ve always taught that when it comes to apologizing to be specific. “I’m sorry for “A” and not “ABC”. Now that “A” might be rather large, but the idea is to be specific to the offense. The other piece to a sincere apology deals with forgiveness. After an apology, “Will you forgive me?” is a key phrase to follow up with.

  • Roger Genung says:

    I love this article. I plan on buying the book. My wife and I have just recently become SYMBIS facilitators. Thanks so much

  • Criticism to complaint. That’s a new interesting concept! Great article!

  • Angelique McKoy says:

    This is so helpful and powerful food for thought!

  • Carol says:

    I have a suggestion: Add to Rule 2 “… and a request.”

    The book, Complaint-Free World, is a refreshing eye-opener. I’ve been aspiring to become more aware of my negativity bias and to switch such thoughts, words, and potential actions/behaviour into something that will result in a positive outcome. Hence keeping uppermost in my mind—desired outcome, most especially when in difficult and fragile situations.
    Learning about compassionate communication, i.e. NVC, non-violent comm’n, by Marshall Rosenberg, has been a wonderful tool. In part, this process focuses on observations/facts, feelings, and needs. When I can identify my needs (wants and/or desires), I can then speak to them when I feel triggered or upset by the words or actions of another by expressing myself in an effective, (respectful and congruent), constructive, and productive manner.

    Hence, I suggest that Rule 2 read as: Practice turning criticism into requests.

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