“All’s Fair in Love and War”: When Does This Proverb Go Too Far?

The adage “all’s fair in love and war” suggests that in these arenas, normal rules don’t apply. The goal justifies any means. While it has historical roots in wartime desperation, applying the sentiment to relationships is problematic, even dangerous. Let’s explore when this proverb is misused, and how to build a strong foundation for love that doesn’t involve ruthless competition.

The Problem with the Proverb

  • Normalizing Harm: Jealousy, lies, manipulation, and even emotional abuse get excused with, “Well, all’s fair…” This undermines trust, the essential building block of healthy relationships.
  • “Winning” vs. Partnership: Love shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Healthy partners are teammates, aiming for mutual respect, compromise, and growth.
  • Ignoring Boundaries: In warfare, there are rules, however grim. Real love requires clear personal limits on what’s unacceptable, communicated openly.

When It Might (Cautiously) Apply

  • Harmless Playfulness: A bit of competitive teasing during a board game might fall under acceptable rivalry. But this requires mutual enjoyment, not hurting feelings.
  • The Pursuit Phase: Early dating can involve lighthearted strategizing – what to wear, how long to wait to text. But even here, honesty and genuine connection are key.
  • Times of Adversity: Life throws curveballs. A couple facing a huge challenge might make tough, unconventional choices, out of shared love and necessity, not selfishness.

Healthy Alternatives

How do we navigate life’s complexities without resorting to emotional warfare?

  • Honesty & Vulnerability: Open communication builds trust far better than any tactic. Don’t be afraid to express your needs respectfully.
  • Empathy & Compromise: Relationships mean working together, sometimes meeting halfway. Try to understand your partner’s perspective, even in conflict.
  • Self-respect & Boundaries: Know what behaviors you won’t tolerate, and communicate those limits clearly. “Winning” at the cost of your dignity isn’t love.


  • Bad Use: Hiding your past relationship with someone your partner knows. This breaks trust under the guise of “fighting for your love.”
  • Good Use: Setting firm limits on contact during a break. This can be painful for both sides, but is a clear boundary, not a manipulative tactic.

The Takeaway

The proverb “all’s fair in love and war” is mostly a dangerous sentiment masquerading as tough wisdom. In true warfare, there are rules, however harsh, meant to limit suffering. Love, at its best, should be a refuge, not a battleground. Choose collaboration, honesty, and respect as your tools to build a loving partnership that can withstand any challenge, without resorting to emotional combat.


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan


Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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