When it comes to relationships, fighting is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be emotionally absorbing or disastrous. Partners can disagree and even fight while still showing compassion and respect for each other. In fact, many psychologists say that married couples who don’t have any conflict are often the ones who end in divorce. This is because couples who don’t fight tend towards indifference. Another study by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology supports the theory that there are benefits to fighting with your partner in a constructive way. They also suggest that this may actually bring you closer together. In addition, researchers from Florida State University have found that expressing anger may cause short-term discomfort, but in the long run, it will benefit the relationship.
Why do we argue and fight?
Unless you are dating yourself, it is impossible to have a relationship with someone who agrees with you about everything, but healthy arguments in our relationship can help us mature. In most relationships, fights usually center around important issues. For example, each of you may want a different lifestyle – maybe you want some time off with your friends, or perhaps your partner reminds you of errands all the time. Like it or not, we cannot control other people’s behaviors.
What we can do, however, is learn how to communicate with empathy and understand the needs and feelings of our partners so we can communicate with honesty and with compromise. Arguments and fight usually follow a predictable cycle. They start with a single issue, but when you begin arguing, both sides are willing to say just about anything to prove their point. This is where communication plays a key role.
We all want better communication, but for most of us, it is tough to master the skills that guarantee good communication. Most of the time, it is easier to point the finger at your partner. Good communication is a joint effort, and by acquiring the necessary communication skills, we have a better chance of dealing with disagreements without serious conflict.
Psychologists have researched and outlined specific communication styles that seem to cause damage to relationships. These include contempt, stonewalling, defensiveness, and criticism. Unfortunately, these communication styles are all too common for many couples, and several studies have shown that they are major predictors of divorce.
What starts arguments and fights between partners?
In the 1970s, D. R. Peterson distinguished four types of events that trigger arguments between partners: criticism, demands, cumulative annoyance, and rejection. While it might seem obvious, it is important to keep in mind that during arguments, we tend to forget what we otherwise know when we are calm.
The most common trigger in arguments is criticism, which leads to major relationship problems. Despite the fact that most of us know that criticism damages our relationship, it doesn’t stop us from attacking each other in the heat of the moment. Criticism can be both intentional and unintentional.
The second trigger for arguments is demandsfrom one partner to the other that seem unfair to the receiver.
The third trigger, cumulative annoyance, is when the same annoyance occurs with relative frequency. For example, if one partner forgets to take out the garbage now and then, the other partner can tolerate it, but when they constantly fail to do it, the other partner becomes angry.
The fourth and final trigger for conflict is rejection, which speaks for itself.
Managing the aftermath.
One of the most important skills anyone can acquire is to learn how to manage the aftermath of a fight. The technique developed by Dr. John Gottman offers the chance for partners to talk over issues after an argument in a more compassionate and productive way. It is important to keep in mind that the technique only works when partners take a break after the fights and are no longer flooded with emotions. Although it may feel a bit awkward if you have never had the chance to practice similar techniques before, this will give both you and your partner the chance not just to repair the situation at hand, but also help prevent future conflicts. The foundation of this six-step technique is that there are two points of view, meaning that both partners are right.
Discuss feelings from the argument.The first step involves describing the feelings both partners were experiencing during the argument by following the rules of active listening and using “I” statements without blaming each other.
Express subjective realities about the argument.In the second step, partners express their own subjective reality or point of view. This is an important step as it helps us to practice paying mindful attention to our behavior.
Understand each other’s positions.This step is also important as it is about understanding your partner’s point of view. Partners should practice what we call empathy as they try to put themselves in each other’s shoes to help them understand how the other person is feeling.
Are feelings taking over again? Step back and calm down.Most of the time, when couples try to discuss after a fight, they just get angry all over again. This is a tricky step, but a necessary one, as most couples neglect to calm themselves down before engaging in a new discussion.
Acknowledge your role in the fight.In step 5, partners admit how they contributed to the fight. This step can be an eye-opener and can teach couples a lot about themselves. It is important for each partner to take responsibility for what went wrong.
Ask what can be done better next time.In the final step, partners should ask themselves what could be done differently next time. Sometimes, this is the hardest step, and most couples get stuck as it requires emotional intelligence and skill, which can be acquired with the help of relationship coaching.
If you want to resolve arguments and fights in a healthier and more productive way, keep the following things in mind:
Figure out what triggers your fights.
Instead of pointing fingers, couples should find out what triggers their repetitive fights and try out ways to compromise instead of allowing the conflict to go on. Rather than following the same old patterns, set new rules.
Schedule a time for conflict.
All couples have conflicts in their relationship from time to time. This is inevitable. Instead of letting random conflicts stress your relationship, choose a time to talk through your problems. Setting aside time to work out issues allows both partners to calm down and communicate their feelings in a less emotional and defensive way.
Time for a break.
During fights, couples are unable to solve any problems because each person is solely focused on winning the fight. At this point, it’s beneficial if someone calls a time out so that both partners can calm down.
Arguments usually start when one partner starts complaining instead of politely requesting. Asking for something politely is more direct and respectful than putting your partner down for their failure to meet your needs.
Break the cycle with relationship coaching.
Do you feel that you are stuck in endless arguments and you don’t know how to break free? With relationship coaching, you will find out what is perpetuating this negative cycle. Among others, relationship coaching can help couples
- Learn how to listen empathetically.
- Take turns sharing thoughts and feelings.
- Reinforce their self-esteem.
- Set boundaries.
- Express their thoughts and feelings in an open and safe way.
- Reflect with empathy.
- Respect each other.
- Love each other.
- Improve intimacy and maintain connection and safety in the relationship.
- Politely request instead of complaining.
Relationship coaching and anger management.
Anger management is designed to help people learn how to manage their anger and aggression. It helps people acknowledge the source of their anger and teaches them how to control their reactions. Another benefit of relationship coaching and anger management is the ability to de-escalate arguments and teach partners how to express their thoughts and feelings more effectively. Finally, relationship coaching and anger management teach partners how to come up with mutual solutions.
Relationship or marriage coaches are experts in human behavior. They have studied the foundations of relationships and continue to research. Seeing a coach is often an eye-opening experience – partners have come to realize that their approach to fighting is not beneficial for them. Relationship coaching is a gradual process that requires couples to overcome one milestone at a time. Relationship coaching is a good way to start learning how to argue and communicate in a healthier way. A coach helps couples break repetitive cycles of dysfunctional communication and works with them to solve the deeper issues behind the arguments they are having.
It is inevitable to have arguments and fights in your relationship. Without the skills to manage those issues in a healthy way, you may find yourself trapped in the cycle of arguments and fights. In relationship coaching, you will learn all the skills you need to manage conflicts in a way that will benefit you and your partner.
Overall, N. C. & McNulty, J. K. (2017). What type of communication during conflict is beneficial for intimate relationships? Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 1-5.
Peterson, D. R. (1979). Assessing interpersonal relationships by means of interaction records. Behavioural Assessment, 1, 221-236.
Pietromonaco, P. R., DeBuse, C. J., & Powers, S. I. (2013). Does Attachment Get Under the Skin? Adult Romantic Attachment and Cortisol Responses to Stress. Current directions in psychological science, 22(1), 63–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721412463229