Once you get past the honeymoon phase, there’s always going to be some amount of fighting in any romantic relationship.
“Conflict is what naturally happens when two different sides or perspectives attempt to merge,” says Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed mental health professional and co-founder of Viva Wellness. “It’s natural for there to be discord as a result of this.” Conflict breeds disagreement, which often incites an argument, or a “fight.” (To be clear, when say “fight,” we don’t mean physical or emotional abuse, which is never acceptable. We mean a heated argument.)
That’s why it’s a red flag if couples never fight, explains Gigi Engle, Womanizer’s resident sexologist and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life. “If they never fight, they’re avoiding conflict, and then nothing ever gets resolved,” she says. On the flip side, it’s also a bad sign if you’re fighting all the time. This can be a sign that you’re not effectively communicating or confusing drama for passion, Engle adds.
So what kind of fighting is healthy and normal in a relationship? Here’s a list of things you should and shouldn’t do when you are your partner butt heads.
What you should NOT do in a fight:
Care more about “winning” than resolving the conflict.
There shouldn’t be a winner and a loser when you’re arguing with your partner. If your goal is to “win,” your priorities are off. And if, for some reason, you must think in those terms, either you both win—that would be if you successfully resolve the conflict—or your both lose, meaning you didn’t come to a satisfactory agreement.
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At some point during an argument, you will likely find that you and your verbal sparring partner have somehow devolved into just talking in circles, saying the same things over and over again, explains Caraballo. “When the conversation hits that wall, it’s important to stop and ask yourself, ‘Is winning this argument the most important thing right now?’” If it’s the problematic notion of winning you’re after, then take a break. Come back to the argument later when your goal is actually to resolve the issue at hand.
Bring up every single thing your partner has ever done wrong.
Sometimes, when you’re frustrated with your partner at a specific moment, it can be tempting to bring up every annoying thing they’ve ever done. But when you’re fighting, Engle recommends sticking to single issue that upset you. If you’re arguing about your in-laws, that’s not the time to bring up that your partner doesn’t do the dishes. You can have the dishes conversation another time.
Interrupt your partner.
One of the quickest ways to escalate a fight is to interrupt your partner while they’re talking. This will often lead to cries of “You’re not listening!” or “Let me finish!” Engle recommends “emphatically listening to your partner for at least two minutes, or at least until they’ve finished their thought.” They should do the same for you. But make sure when you’re listening, you’re actually listening, and not simply waiting for your turn to speak. If you’re just in your head, repeating what you plan to say to your partner the moment they finish, you’re not truly hearing and processing what’s bothering them—and you’ll be no closer to working things out.
What you SHOULD do in a fight:
Have a set objective (goal) of fighting.
How often have you been in a fight with your partner and midway through, you realize you aren’t actually sure what you’re fighting about? Caraballo asks his patients: “What’s the goal of the fight?” Is it to be heard? What’s the specific resolution you’re looking for? Once you and your partner know exactly why you’re fighting, and what you’re hoping to get done by arguing, then you actually have a chance at coming to amiable resolutions.
Use the XYZ method of communication.
The XYZ method is extremely helpful in diffusing fights and promoting problem-solving, explains Caraballo. Heres how it’s done: You say, “I felt X (identifying the feelings) when Y happened (identifying the problem or triggering event) and I would appreciate Z (remedy/resolution).” Notice how there’s no blaming with this method. You’re not saying “You did X. You cause Y. This is your fault.” Caraballo notes that blaming your partner will immediately make them feel defensive, which is not helpful when attempting to resolve conflict.
Take a break if things get too heated (or aren’t going anywhere).
“It should also be said that time outs aren’t just helpful for sports and misbehaving little kids,” Caraballo says. “They’re good for arguments in a relationship too.” If you’re talking in circles, becoming overly aggressive, or are more concerned with “winning” than problem-solving, take a deep breath and tell your partner that you would like to take a break for arguing. If the issue is something that’s destined to linger in your relationship, then make a plan to pick it back up later when you’re feeling a bit more balanced and rational. Caraballo suggests saying something along the lines of, “I’m overwhelmed and can’t actually work towards a solution right now. Let’s regroup tomorrow afternoon to actually figure this out.” Taking a break will do wonders in maintaining the health of your relationship, he adds.
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