My experience with not fighting enough has taught me a lot about the actual benefits of having fights. Don’t let your partner tell you to “calm down” when you have a real reason to be angry.
Sometimes, when I was angry with M., I really, really wanted to have a fight.
Sometimes I was angry with him because he wouldn’t fight.
Once I elevated my voice at him—the day he accused me of cheating, about 6 months into our dead bedroom. He told me “don’t scream at me, I’m not screaming at you!” Except that I wanted to scream. I wanted to let out all my rage and frustration and disappointment, but I didn’t want to seem like the “crazy woman”, so I repressed my emotions.
Oh, how many times I wished I could rouse him into elevating his own voice, into finally telling me how he really felt… not just how he wanted me to feel.
And then I started to wonder, why are fights such a taboo with so many people? Are couples who never fight stronger and better, or is the lack of fighting a sign of relationship illness?
Note: I’m not talking about abusive relationships here. If your partner is physically, emotionally or psychologically abusive, seek help.
What is fighting, really?
A fight can come from many things: a disagreement, a breach of trust, an emotional issue that isn’t being addressed. In my experience, fights come by when one partner doesn’t feel he or she is being heard, and tries to use more forceful techniques—an elevated voice, blaming, attacking—to get his or her message across.
When you’re in a fight, even just a verbal one, many things happen to your body. Your heart rate increases, as does your blood flow. You breathe quicker, shallower. You body moves into an aggressive or protective stance, depending on your personality and your position in the fight. Personally, my ears and cheeks get red, I can hear my blood pumping, and my hands move into fists. I tend to take the aggressive stance, raising my voice and moving towards the person.
Fighting, for me, is a sign of investment in the relationship. It shows you care. Avoiding fights or simply ignoring issues tells me, as a person, that you don’t care about how I feel.
Of course, there are ways to express how we feel without fighting… and ideally, that’s what you want. But sometimes, elevated voices and quivering lips cannot be avoided. Sometimes the emotions are so strong and so overwhelming that you need to just let them out in any way they come.
How to fight
According to research, the reason why couples fight isn’t as important for the relationship as much as the way they fight. This is more indicative of the strength of a relationship than the number of fights. There are plenty of couples all there who fight regularly, and yet have some of the most loving and strong partnerships I have seen.
The point is to fight constructively, rather than destructively. Remember: feelings are not moral or immoral. Only your actions are.
Keep to your own feelings
You can never tell another person how they should or must feel. You can never assume what a partner is feeling. The only feelings you truly know are you own—and these are those you want to express.
However, what you can do is tell them what actions prompted your feelings. Did they forget your birthday? Are they constantly ignoring your request to put dishes in the dishwasher, or to go down on you when you ask them? Your partner cannot argue with actions. If they are doing, or not doing, something that bothers you, they can’t really argue with the reality of the actions themselves.
Now, there’s a risk of blaming there—but you can avoid it by using the classic “When you do…. I feel…..” model. That way, you make sure that you stick to their actions and your feelings.
Don’t fight dirty
You know intimate things about your partner—maybe things that trigger them or make them feel worthless. For the love of all that is good in this world, DO NOT use these during a fight. It’s dirty, it’s mean, and it’s a breach of trust. They are being vulnerable and open, and you shouldn’t put that in jeopardy.
Ask questions when needed
Don’t interrupt your partner when they’re talking/screaming, but make sure to note questions you have as they express their emotions to you. Keep a notebook nearby, if it’s not too insulting to your partner… I know I often get lost in arguments in my head, and I can quickly forget questions or clarifications that I need to ask while having a deeply involved discussion with someone.
“How does that make you feel?” is something that is almost cliché, but helpful to pull out the real feelings and motivations behind an angry outburst. Dig deeper. You’ll both come out knowing each other better if you do.
Stick to the subject
When we fight, it’s easy to change the topic to avoid the real issue or to placate our partner. But once you find the sore spot, it’s important to stick to it; think of fighting as an emotional massage. Not the nice and soft kind.
If there are several things to solve, do so one at a time. Otherwise, you’ll miss your chance at a full resolution.
When a fight is done well, the aftermath is actually pretty positive. First, you’ve released your anger and frustration. That’s why you usually feel lighter physically when you bring a fight to its resolution.
And then there’s the increase of trust and intimacy that comes with solving problems. If you can solve these big issues together, what else can you accomplish? What challenges can you take on together, and triumph over? A good fight strengthens your relationship.
It also helps you admit that you’re both humans. Often in love, even in long-term relationships, we tend to idealize our partners. We put them on a pedestal, project our own needs and fantasies on them. And a good fight can break those fantasies and reveal the true person underneath. It’s a good way to truly get to know your partner, warts and all.
And then, there might some awesome post-fight sex afterwards… just to solidify your newfound intimacy.