zipped lipWe’ve all heard the saying, “pick your battles.” That sounds like a good way to reduce unnecessary fights, but exactly how are we supposed to pick the right ones? When I ask people what they think, they often say, “Just pick the ones that are worth it,” or “Pick the ones you think you can win.” But if you follow that advice, prepare yourself for more battles, not fewer.

If we want to reduce the number of fights we have with our spouse, children, colleagues and friends, there is only one way to do it: smarten up. How do you do that? It’s easy. Before you open your mouth to give unwanted advice or criticism, ask yourself: Does this actually affect me? If the answer is no, say nothing. Don’t pick that battle. 

To illustrate the wisdom of this simple question, I’ll share a little story. A husband (who shall remain nameless) was heading to work one summer day when his wife thoughtfully suggested he take an umbrella because the weather report said there was a high chance of rain. When the husband returned home that evening with dripping-wet hair, his wife watched him shake off his coat and pull off his soaked shoes. She instinctively blurted out, “I told you to take an umbrella,” to which the husband replied, “I don’t mind getting a little wet.” 

And then the fight began –>


“A little wet?” questioned the wife. “You look like you were in a hurricane!” And so, the husband responded a little louder, “I like the rainfall on a warm day, and I will never take an umbrella because it’s too annoying to carry around.” The wife felt she couldn’t let such a ridiculous comment go unchallenged … and then the fight began.

The wife felt she couldn't let such a ridiculous comment go unchallenged…and then the fight began.

In retrospect, it’s clear that this was the wrong battle to pick. In the moment, though, how could this woman have known? The answer is that she could have smartened up and asked herself how this situation personally affected her. Was she sopping wet? No. Was her husband asking her to blow dry his hair or dry his clothing? No. His getting wet did not personally affect her—even though it did annoy her. Therefore, picking that battle was a bad choice. 

I’m sure your spouse does many things that bother or annoy you, but how many of them truly affect you and take up your time or money? Remember that your spouse is not perfect, but you are not there to fix him or her. Rather than jumping in with unnecessary criticism to spark a fight, be smart, take a breath, and hold your tongue. This too shall pass.

FLLMLaurie Puhn

Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, and bestselling author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In who appears on CNN, “Good Morning America,” and “The Early Show” to offer relationship advice. She is a wife and mother to two young children. Visit her website.


When do you find yourself holding your tongue because a fight just doesn't seem worth it?