To fight or not to fight? That should not be the question. The real question should be "how do we fight fair in our relationships?" Often I share with clients just because couples fight and argue with one another doesn't mean that they do not love each other or that they are in a major relationship crisis. In my experience, when couples say they don’t fight, someone is being untruthful. No two or more people agree on everything. It isn’t the fact that they are fighting, but how and why they choose to fight that determines the fate of the relationship. Healthy confrontation occurs in a space where relationship parties feel that they can express themselves authentically, are open to hear, and feel that they are heard. Avoiding confrontation and not being open/honest with yourself or your partner can be the breeding ground for unspoken resentment and bitterness. This resentment and bitterness, if left unaddressed or addressed poorly, can be devastatingly destructive to all interactions, intimacy, relationship, love, etc.
Let’s examine what this looks like. Imagine that you and your partner are going to the movies. You hate missing the beginning of the movie and your partner is running late. No phone call is made ahead of time and in haste to get to the show, no apology or explanation is offered. The tension mounts to a point where you verbally explode and a huge fight ruins the night. The next morning you have no clue as to why you were fighting and how the previous night’s movie date escalated into a disappointing argument. It seems silly that all of this craziness started over a 15-minute delay, only missing the upcoming movie previews. It is important for you to know that content and environment are only small parts of the equation. Life is about feelings and emotions. While you were waiting for your partner you became angry, disappointed, and hurt as a result of not feeling valued or that you are a priority by your partner. This momentary feeling of not being valued or made as a priority by your partner connects to other moments of not feeling valued or important at previous times in the relationship that were not expressed and even similar hurts prior to the relationship. These feelings combine to create a red-eyed monster more powerful than the movie instance would imply. When you do not address an issue head on and allow the feelings to fester you can present to your partner as if you are over the top emotionally, when you reach your tipping point.
Arguments in relationships occur when primary needs are not met. When either or both partners don’t feel that one or more of their primary needs, safety, security, connection, feeling wanted, valued, desired, heard, or being accepted adverse feeling arise. Current research has identified 5 reasons couples fight:
- Work Stress
- The Children
The 6th is added from my years in private practice.
Each of these topics can be very sensitive and emotional issues that can create various feelings that are often conflicting for both partners. Disagreeing is not uncommon and fighting/arguing can happen; however, learning how to fight fairly is important. Ultimately, the goal must be to fight for the relationship, not to belittle or destroy the other person. Remember, neither of you are the enemy. In stressful situations conversations can get disjointed and the arguing becomes toxic. The quest to win a fight leads to distance that push couples apart.
Fighting, arguments, and disagreements are inevitable, but there are ways of fighting and arguing that can strengthen relationships and not erode the foundation of love.
Key factors in fair fighting are:
- Identify your intent upfront: State the goal and objective of the conversation upfront. (I love and value who you are and who we are together. Because of that I want to understand what happened when…… I’m confused and would like clarity on something, I know you love me but I can’t see, taste, or smell where the love is in this situation…. please help me find it….)
- Slow down: Connect to yourself, your core feeling and experience. Then allow yourself to speak from that space. Avoid speaking from your mental, intellectual, presumptuous, calculated self.
- Own your experience: State how you feel by using I statements, “when you do this…., I feel……”
- Be authentic/open, be willing to be vulnerable: Be willing to share your experience in the moment to yourself and your partner. This allows you to stay present and not blend multiple moments, which leads to becoming mentally and emotionally overwhelmed.
- Be open to listen: You must be willing to listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and emotions.
- Collaborate: Work with your partner for an amicable resolve or understanding. You are both on the same team working towards the same goals. You are not opponents or adversaries.
Arguing skillfully and respectfully can make a relationship healthy and stronger and protect against highly destructive anger, resentment, and emotions. Paying attention to when and how you fight, in all phases of life, is good for your personal wellbeing, relationship, intimacy, and love life.
Todd Malloy is a relationship and sex therapist in private practice in Charlotte, NC, USA. He is an academic lecturer, a public speaker, and a show developer and producer. For more information on enabling your inner power to celebrate and live an empowered life, visit www.innerpeacecounselingcenter.com, mancave conversations.com, or call (704) 937-2286.