How to fight right, if you will.
Couples fight. Even in the best of times, when we’re able to spend time apart, hang out with friends, or just do fun things together, arguments are still bound to crop up, because we’re human. Over the past few months, relationships have been tested like never before due to social isolation.
If you live part, then phone calls and video chats are your only source of communication, which ironically, may lead to issues in that department. If you live together, you’re likely spending more time together than ever before, and not by choice. You’re forced to cook, clean and cohabit every second of every day.
Fights might come up about sharing the workload, how money is being spent now that you might have less or more of it depending on your circumstances, balancing time with your kids, and anything else that this strange pandemic may bring out in us – along with any issue we had before it. It’s not fun, and it can lead to hurtful words, tears shed and even silent treatment, but surprisingly, conflict can actually be good for your relationship if it’s done right.
“Conflict and difference in a couple is not a cause for concern, as it’s perfectly normal,” says Jo Ryder, a sex and relationship therapist. However, what is cause for concern is toxic fight styles.
“An example of toxic fight styles would be anything really hurtful or even spiteful and with no form of apology or responsibility-taking.” So while there is clearly an unhelpful way to fight, surely there’s a more productive way too? “It’s best to try and avoid using any negative fight style which is most often inadvertently picked up from your family or origin – things like criticism, contempt, exploitation, defensiveness or words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘must’ and ‘should’.
“Instead, try using better phrases like ‘I feel distant from you when’ coupled or followed – in the same conversation – with ‘I feel close to you when’. If you want to offer judgement, be tentative, something like ‘it seems to me that…’ or ‘from my position it appears…’ coupled or followed with ‘am I right in thinking…’ Respect your partner and accept their feelings.”
Jo also advises that you mind your body language, so rolling your eyes, crossing your arms or turning away should probably be avoided if you want to work through the issue maturely in a way that the other person feels like they are being listened to. It can feel sometimes that you’re the only couple in the world who have big fights, but this is obviously not the case – plus, those who don’t argue shouldn’t necessarily brag about it. “There probably would be some couples who don’t ‘ever’ fight but it’s not necessarily a healthy sign either,” says Joe. “It could be a sign they’re too enmeshed or afraid to speak up for themselves, amongst other things.”
In fact, science tells us that fighting is actually good for you if you do it right. A study published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2012 found that while expressing anger to a romantic partner caused short-term discomfort, it also incited honest conversations that benefited the relationship in the long run. There is no blueprint for right and wrong ways to fight as every couple is different, but there are definitely some dos and don’t when it comes to bringing up an issue.
“Of course, there are ways to argue that work better but I’d also add that not all arguing is always bad. There isn’t really a right and a wrong way to argue, it’s whatever works best for the couple’s relationship style. Some couples can thrive on it and it might not do them any harm if they know how to make it up to each other in other ways.”
So figuring out a style that works for you both and fighting in a mature way can lead to a healthier relationship. “It’s about understanding how to fight constructively and being in the right headspace to do it well,” says Jo, who adds that about “seventy per cent of conflict can be resolved through good communication.”
Not sure about your fight style or how to have an argument that actually gets you somewhere? Try the WITS approach.
There are no winners. If you have one partner who feels they have won an argument, then it’s at the expense of the other who has “lost”, and that’ not the kind of conflict dynamic you want to have in a romantic relationship.
Always, always use “I” statements without finger-pointing. Talk about your own feelings and how you feel because it will be less triggering for your partner, who is likely going to be listening and responding defensively.
Pick the right time to talk about a disagreement, where each of you will have calmed down and resolved to have a rational, open and honest heart-to-heart conversation, rather than a big fight in the heat of the moment.
Name it, frame it, deal with it and move on. When you start to get sidetracked with bringing up old stuff that’s not relevant to the current argument, it will likely make the two of you go round in circles, feeling further misunderstood about past hurts that have not been dealt with or forgiven.
“Most differences just need to be well communicated and understood. An argument isn’t about winning; it’s about enlarging the understanding between you.” For many people, the ‘big’ argument is the one that they can’t come to an agreement on, the ones that crop up every couple of weeks or months. So if you’re fighting or bickering without coming to a conclusion or resolution, there are a number of things you can do.
“Figure out what’s really happening,” says Jo. “If despite showing each other love and respect, why is there still unresolved conflict? Why are we unable to resolve this and what is that about? A good relationship contains a number of things to keep it healthy, such as clear communication, empathic listening and mutual support, as well as a level of emotional and physical intimacy that nurtures your bond.”
If despite your best efforts, the relationship gets into distress, there is plenty of help available with good books written on the subject, or even couples counselling to get to the heart of the matter. “There has been so much research into what works and what doesn’t work for relationships, that there is no need to feel like it can’t be helped or changed.”