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Rules of (couples) Engagement: Strike When the Iron is Cold

I know I know…the motto is “strike when the iron is hot”. There are quite a few situations in life where I believe that is sound advice. But between couples, with difficult issues between them, your best bet for fair fighting is addressing issues when no one is mobilized is one of the most productive moves you can make.

Couples frequently dread bringing up issues with each other. They avoid topics of central importance in large part because they don’t want to rock the boat, or disrupt the peace. Instead they wait, intentionally or unconsciously, until they are already in a fight and then start piling on their issues. For obvious reasons that is a horrible decision.

When our partner is already upset, aka a hot iron, they are likely frustrated, defensive, angry, and hardly the best listener.  Additionally they would have every right to accuse you of changing the topic, and moving away from the original discussion.

A far more productive decision, and overall more respective move, is to bring the topic up when the iron is cold. Think about your argument. Choose a good time for both you and your partner, when you are both calm, don’t have anything pressing to do immediately following the conversation, and are in a good relational space with each other. 

Then proceed thoughtfully:

If saying all that gets them riled up and defensive, explain that you don’t want to talk until they can calm down and sort themselves a bit. Explain you are doing the work also to stay calm and non-defensive and that you think it will be the most productive way to handle the conversation.

You will be amazed at how much better your conversation will go. I know it takes courage, but this is what will give you the best chance or successfully moving your issue forward.

How Can Therapy Help?

I often joke with couples that it is better to come to a session I the middle of a fight, as I can help them resolve it, but if they come in fine, they will surely leave upset. That is because every couple, whether they are in therapy or no, has so many issues bubbling right under the surface.

It is so frightening for couples to break the rhythm of a good day to risk a hard conversation. Individual therapy can embolden us to bring up our concerns with our partners. Couples therapy is the container that ensures both will be heard and taken care of.



Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists' personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.

Full Living Founder and Director Karen L. Smith MSS, LCSW Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.

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