If you’re fighting with your partner every day and it’s affecting your ability to connect or have a stable life outside of your relationship, you may be fighting too much. But before you freak out that your relationship is doomed because of the four fights you had last week, know that bickering all the time is not necessarily a sign of a problem.
Do all couples fight?
All couples have disagreements; it’s how you work through them that matters most. Many couples struggle with working through conflict in a way that is healthy and productive. “Often couples have the same argument repeatedly without realising it. The context changes, but the themes — or roots — of the argument remain the same. Couples need help identifying and addressing those themes so they can work through what’s really bothering them,” said psychotherapist Dr. Maggie Vaughan.
Ultimately, fighting doesn’t have to be negative. If it’s being dealt with properly, it can bring couples closer together. The question is less about how much fighting is too much and more about if the conflict is constructive or destructive. A constructive conflict is a fight that reaches a resolution. Destructive conflict tends to degrade the relationship and can consist of name calling, lying, or bullying.
How to fight more productively with your partner
It’s a given that at some point in a relationship, a fight will erupt. The good news is it’s normal and healthy to sometimes get angry with your partner, as long as you handle it correctly. When you feel tempers flaring up, try to take a step back and focus on these steps.
Work on your communication
When you’re in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to blurt things out, but identifying and pausing before speaking will allow you to reframe your problems in a more effective way.
“Don’t let fights escalate to the point of doing damage to the relationship,” author and relationship coach Brad Browning said. “Keep things focused and on topic, don’t raise your voices, and listen to each other’s point of view before responding.”
This also means opting for more empathetic wording instead of using derogatory statements or name calling. It’s important to speak carefully during arguments and to be intentional with your wording to make your message clear.
Listen and be open
While it’s important to communicate your needs, it’s equally as important to listen with full attention. Listen to your partner’s issues and try not to fall into the trap of being defensive. Instead, ask questions when you’re confused to make sure you’re both on the same page. It can be difficult in the heat of a moment to effectively listen to others, but it’s also necessary for a relationship to thrive. If you focus on listening to your significant other’s point of view, it allows you to examine the situation more fully and consider the emotional needs of your partner instead of trying to win an argument.
Identify and address the main issues
Sometimes when we get caught in the habit of bickering or fighting, we can get stuck in cycles of shallow arguments rather than identifying the real issue. The best way to identify the root of conflict is to figure out your needs and learn what you keep going back to. We all have basic needs in relationships but not everyone’s needs are the same. When those needs aren’t satisfied, the lack of satisfaction can work its way covertly into every argument. Complaining about the garbage never being taken out, for example, could have a deeper meaning. Maybe you’re upset with your partner for not doing their share of errands because you’re overwhelmed with work or because you had a more stressful day than usual. Pausing and understanding where your anger is coming from is key.
Speak in “I” rather than “you” phrases
Try using statements like “I feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated when you don’t help with housework” or “I get anxious when I don’t hear from you.” It’s helpful to put the focus on yourself here rather than immediately putting blame on your partner. This will help take your partner off the defensive and open the dialogue in a more meaningful and solution-based way. An “I-statement” also forces you to take responsibility for your feelings while still being assertive and compassionate to yourself and your partner.
Don’t avoid the argument
It can be tempting to hold off on communicating how you’re feeling because of fears that it will start an argument. However, avoiding confrontation can actually cause more harm than good. Conflict avoidance can make the problem bigger over time and leads to built-up resentments. If you don’t put in the effort to communicate your needs and talk through your problems with your partner, the problem will only perpetuate itself in different ways. Avoiding the problem, unfortunately, never resolves it.
If you find yourself still struggling with coming to a constructive resolution, it might be time to consider couples therapy. “Couples [may] need help identifying and addressing … themes so they can work through what’s really bothering them,” Vaughan said. “Therapy helps partners develop skills for better understanding and supporting one another, which over time, makes them feel closer.”
It helps to have a new perspective outside of your relationship so you can focus on what’s going wrong. Keep in mind though, happy couples aren’t free of conflict but rather know how to navigate those tough moments together. In the end, if you stay present during arguments and work on the above steps, you’re on your way to a healthy foundation to your relationship.