Dirty Fighting Tactics
Avoid These at all Costs



These dirty fighting tactics are sure-fire ways to ruin communication, escalate conflict and ensure that you never reach a solution to the problem about which you are fighting.

And since some folks need concrete examples of what not to do, here's a list.

The Dirty Dozen Times Two:
Fighting Tactics to Guarantee Poor Communication


  • Side Swipe

    In this tactic you initiate a fight when the other person is least likely to expect it, or least able to respond. This one practically ensures failure at resolving a problem because the other person feels side swiped.

  • Character Assassination

    In this dirty fighting tactic you move quickly from the issue at hand to questioning the other person's personality. You interpret the other person's shortcomings as evidence of bad character or family traits.

  • Brown Bagging (or Kitchen Sinking)

    In this tactic you try to list as many problems as possible in as much detail as possible. You don't stick to the original issue, but rather throw in all the problems you can think of. You also don't limit yourself to the immediate present.

  • Overgeneralize

    This dirty fighting tactic uses words like "always" and "never." For example, "You are always late. or "You never cared about the kids." This is likely to distract the other person into discussing the over-generalization rather than the issues.

  • Cross-Complain

    In this tactic you respond to any complaint the other raises with one of your own. If done properly, you can create a complete stalemate by balancing complaint against complaint forever.

  • Ask Why

    In this dirty fighting tactic you demand an explanation and imply that there must be something terribly wrong with that person.

  • Blame

    In this tactic you make it clear that the fault lies entirely with them and once again, you are simply the innocent victim. You don't admit that your behavior plays any part in the difficulty. You make sure that they know that they must change first because it is really all their fault.

  • Pull Rank

    In this dirty fighting tactic you remind the person you are fighting with that you are more important, smarter, better in some way than they are. You use anything that will enhance your status at their expense. For example, "The kids never really liked you when we were together. Now they don't want to go with you and I don't blame them."

  • Dominate

    In this tactic you do anything to dominate the conversation. You don't listen to the other person, you talk over them, you belittle their suggestions.

  • List Injustices

    In this tactic you recite every slight, injustice or inequity you have experienced in the relationship. By doing this you gain a great feeling of being morally justified.

  • Label

    This dirty fighting tactic applies a negative label to the other person to create the impression that they are totally at fault. Psychological labels (childish, neurotic, selfish, insecure, crazy, borderline, bi-polar) are particularly effective in obscuring issues where you may be vulnerable.

  • Mind-Reading

    In this tactic you decide that you know the real reason why the other person is acting in a certain way thus you can avoid having to debate the issue. For example, "I know what you are doing." "You just want the kids to hate me."

  • Fortune-telling

    In this tactic you predict the future. "You will never change so why bother?" This tactic keeps you from having to make any effort at all.

  • Sarcasm

    This dirty fighting tactic is a great way of saying something without having to take responsibility for the communication. When said just right, "You are so smart..." implies just the opposite.

  • Avoid Responsibility

    In this tactic you always have an excuse for your behavior that suggests that it wasn't your fault. It is always someone else's fault.

  • Leave

    In this tactic you bring the discussion to a screeching halt by walking away, refusing to talk or avoiding a situation altogether.

  • Play Martyr

    This tactic is a variation of avoiding responsibility. You disarm the other person by agreeing that you are hopeless or not a good parent or whatever is appropriate. Your pathetic demeanor makes it hard to discuss issues.

  • Use Money

    This is a favorite tactic in divorced couples because money is such a hot topic. Favorites include how and when child support or maintenance is paid, and how it is used. When you have more money you may think you have more power.

  • Use the Children

    When all else fails, this dirty fighting tactic brings the children into the discussion.

  • Use relatives

    This dirty fighting tactic accuses someone of being just like a relative - "You are just like your father." Or a variation is using the relatives as backup for your opinion. "Your mother agrees that you aren't a good parent."

  • Give Advice

    In this tactic you tell the other person how to act, think, and feel. It gives you a position of superiority while you state that you are only trying to be helpful.

  • Get Even

    In this tactic you don't settle for a compromise or an apology. You hold grudges for as long as possible.

  • Volcano

    Blow off steam with a series of name-calling, incoherent sentences. Be so forceful you nearly singe your listener's eyebrows.

  • Witness for the Prosecution

    In this tactic you quote from friends or family who share your opinion and would say so if only they were present.


Dirty fighting seems to happen frequently in divorce. Sometimes it starts before the marriage ends. And other times it is a by-product of the frustrating and demeaning adversarial legal system. No matter where it starts, each person has the means to stop fighting dirty and learn fair fighting. Chances are it will be the best decision about communication that you will ever make.

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