Often we think that a high level of conflict and arguing in a relationship is a sign that the relationship is in grave danger, which of course is devastating for the couple themselves.
However, as a couples therapist, I actually think fighting is a good sign. It means that the couple is still invested in each other and in their relationship, and that they are highly motivated to work things out. All fights have positive intentions underneath them; we just have to take time to truly understand what these intentions are.
As internationally acclaimed therapist and author, Dr. John Gottman points out, “even happily married couples can have screaming matches – loud arguments don’t necessarily doom a marriage.”
What about those who “never fight”?!
For those folk that claim that “we never fight”, I frequently find that there is likely not much action happening in the bedroom either! That’s because the opposite of love is not hate or arguing; it is indifference. When you and your partner have reached the stage of saying “I don’t care, whatever you want” – and you mean it – that is a relationship that is slowly dying. In a recent US study by Lynn Gigy, PhD, and Joan Kelly, PhD, it was found that 80% of divorced men and women cited growing apart and loss of closeness to their partner as reason for divorce.
The reality is, there will always be conflict in relationships. Sadly, when continual conflict becomes an issue, many couples give up too soon.
Rifts and conflicts in relationships are going to happen and they can be healthy. Continual fighting however can be hugely emotionally draining. Rather, what couples need is not to “never fight” but to learn how to fight in a way that isn’t damaging – how to have a good, clean fight!
Positive experiences of conflict will also help you and your partner to have faith that you can indeed work out your issues and continue to build the relationship you want.
Tips for a Good Clean Fight
- Choose your battles wisely. Is the relationship more important to you than being “right”? (And don’t think you’re off the hook if you stay silent – the silent treatment is a passive aggressive way of saying “I’m right”!)
- Identify your fighting style. This can help you gain a better understanding of what happens when you fight; and the more you can understand your fights, the less power they have over you and your relationship. Do you attack? Get defensive? Avoid conflict or practice the silent treatment?
- Always keep in mind your affection and respect for each other, and remember to use a gentle approach when bringing up an issue. Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed that discussions invariably end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your partner, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with, if not more.
- Don’t keep score (or drag up things from the past). Build connection and strengthen your relationship by freely offering each other positive overtures and support.
- Allow each partner to find and utilise a way to self-soothe, whether it be going for a run, scrubbing the shower, or attacking the weeds in the garden!
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Counselling can help couples go from surviving to thriving, as they identify and create the kind of relationship they would like to have – as opposed to tolerating the one that they are currently engaging in. Please don’t feel you have failed if you come to see a couples therapist – instead see it as a positive, that you want to improve, and that you value your relationship. In fact, it’s best to come and see a therapist sooner rather than later; it is easier to resolve problems before they have grown from molehills into mountains.
The most important thing to consider is not the fact that there is conflict, but knowing how to repair the relationship when disagreements arise. The great thing about Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) – an approach I frequently use when working with couples – is that it teaches us that we shouldn’t be judging the quality of our romantic relationships, based on the negative impact of our arguments.
Using Emotionally Focused Therapy you will explore why you keep having the same argument/s – what are the emotions and issues below the surface that you haven’t yet addressed? Frequently, the argument is taking you back to a previous hurt – whether that happened in childhood or perhaps a past relationship.
When couples get stuck in negative emotions they often become entrenched in negative patterns or roles of fighting, causing them ongoing relationship injuries. These patterns and roles quickly become like emotional quicksand. When couples become stuck they start to sink farther and farther into hurt, pain, and fear that can quickly become expressed as control, anger, control, shame and distance.
If you would like to discover how to escape your negative conflict patterns – and how to have a good clean fight! – please make an appointment to see me soon.
Author: Linda Thomson, B Arts, Social Science, Human Services, Masters of Counselling, Master Social Work Studies, Social Work, Member – AASW.
Linda Thomson has many years of experience in different fields of counselling, and has also managed counselling services in the not for profit sector. She has been involved in training and mentoring counsellors, and providing professional supervision. Linda’s area of expertise is couples counselling and sex therapy.
Please call 1800 877 924 or book Linda Thomson online.
- Bradley, B., & Furrow, J. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies. (2013).
- Gottman, J.M, & Silver, N. The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work (1999).