Healthy Relationships & Fighting: What Therapists Want You To Know
Do you worry that you and your partner seem to always be fighting?
Do you think that to be delightfully in love you should never argue? Does fighting leave you feeling you as though your relationship is a ticking time bomb? Well, what most therapists want you to know is that there is a connection between happy, healthy relationships and fighting. But it’s not what you think it is.
You may be getting along just fine and then the fight erupts. Usually you feel like it is totally your partner’s fault! But no matter who started it, it is so very upsetting to be in caught a negative spiral of emotions where you feel angry, resentful, depressed and sometimes hopeless.
You may think that to have a good relationship, a couple shouldn’t be fighting. Most believe that regular arguments can end relationships, and if they didn’t occur, that everything would be perfect. It is normal to come to that conclusion. It isn’t often that we relate healthy relationships and fighting with romance and true love. As such, we imagine that ideal couples should never disagree.
Is it normal that there’s fighting in healthy relationships?
Fighting to some degree is actually good for a relationship. And almost all couples do fight. Couples who don’t fight are the ones that most therapists worry most about. Happy couples are authentic, straight with each other, and air their differences. But over time, they learn self-control and generally do not let anger escalate and explode. This is the key. Happy Couples follow what I call Fight Club Rules.
My clients often sum up for me why their relationship is in trouble. They say, “because we argue all the time.” It’s never that they argue that worries me, it’s how they argue that tells whether they will last the distance. Arguing isn’t always a negative aspect to your relationship. Compared to a couple who never argues, it could mean that your relationship is in better standing because of it.
Arguing shows two people who have their own opinions and beliefs and they are willing to share them. It shows communication and a desire to share the issues that are important to those in the relationship. In a relationship where there is limited or no heated conversation it could mean that one or both people don’t feel safe enough to express themselves. They are unsure if they can be honest about their feelings, be heard and respected, yet still loved. This could be a serious problem. So here are six tips that reveal what therapists have learned about how healthy relationships fight fairly and successfully.
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 1. Avoid Out-of-Control Anger.
Anger and criticism lead to “flooding,” a stress explosion in which the heart beats more rapidly, blood pressure soars and adrenaline surges. The whole body tenses up as fear, confusion and then more anger take over. Reason goes out the window. In experimental studies of conflict, even when couples are asked to calm down, men simply aren’t able to chill out while women can. Keep in mind that your real foe is not your partner but this physiological stress reaction! If anger swirls out of control use breathing, time out, or humor to defuse the situation.
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 2. Give Space as Needed.
If your partner is the one who tends to get flooded with anger, practice giving him or her space in which to calm down. Not in a cold rejecting way, but saying something like, “let’s take a few minutes to have a breather so we can talk this through when we’re both clearer.” In fact, healthy couples know how to establish good boundaries.
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 3. Use Positive Shaping Talk.
To avoid the angry stress reaction, it’s best to start a potentially charged conversation in a soft, sweet, or affectionate way with what I call Positive Shaping Talk. Be warm and clear about what you really want or need from your partner. Not about what they are doing wrong. So instead of, “You never pay attention to me!!!” try saying, “Honey, I love it when you listen to me and it would be so great for me to be able to talk for five minutes while you just listen.”
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 4. Repeat Your Partner’s Complaint.
Often if your partner feels heard and understood, like their opinion matters, they can often let go of the issue, back down and reenter into an intimate connection. Try repeating exactly what they are saying back to them. Start by saying, “You feel.” This can be very disarming!!! So you suddenly might say to your partner, “You feel like I don’t appreciate how important sports are too you.” This can stop the whole escalation to mutually assured destruction.
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 5. Ask yourself, which is more important: to be right or to be close?
In happy couples, who is right and who is wrong is irrelevant. Does it really matter that you win this argument? Or would you rather be having make-up sex or at least be lying in each other’s arms right now?
Healthy Relationships & Fighting Tip 6. Use the “Take Two” Technique.
Make an agreement that either one of you can call out “Take Two” when a fight erupts. Start your “scene” all over again, but from a loving place. My husband and I use this technique regularly to interrupt any of our “stupid fights.”and it is very powerful! In my clinical experience this technique alone has saved many relationships from dissolving.
Happy couples fight, but their fighting is less out of control. So that it ends on a sweet note that carries them back to laughter, closeness and intimacy. Learn how to fight fairly with your partner and come out of your anger. Soon you will be having a real and loving dialogue.
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Diana Kirschner, Ph.D. is a relationship advice expert, frequent guest psychologist on The Today Show and the creator of a globally available dating coach and Love Mentor® program. Dr. Diana is also the best-selling author of the acclaimed best-selling relationship and dating book, “Love in 90 Days”. Love in 90 Days was the basis of her PBS Special on love. Connect with Dr. Diana through her Dating Tips & Relationship Advice Newsletter.
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