It happens in pretty much every relationship — you’re on cloud nine and it feels like nothing could go wrong. Then out of nowhere, a disagreement arises. Soon it turns into your first full-blown fight and you guys have to pick up the pieces. You can’t even remember how it escalated, but it went from zero to 100 real quick. And the fights will probably keep coming back.
Fighting is a normal and inevitable part of every relationship, and it can even be beneficial. But it is hard to do it well. That’s why we’re bringing you the tools to help you improve your fights and your relationship. There’s method to this madness (literally) and we’re going to show you exactly what it is.
We’ve enlisted the expert help of Jay Hurt, relationship coach and author of The 9 Tenets of a Successful Relationship, as well as others who have their own words of wisdom from long-term relationships. And as someone who’s been in a relationship for three years, I feel I can share what I’ve learned with you as well.
Why do couples fight?
Fighting can seriously suck, but why does it continue to happen? “Generally [it’s] because of a lack of communication in one form or another,” Hurt says. “Most fights could be avoided if we as individuals made sure we were clear on our understanding of our partner and we took a moment to try to see things from their perspective.” You’ve probably heard it a million times, and we’ll say it again (sorry) but it really is true — communication is key.
Is it bad to fight in a relationship?
Does fighting frequently suggest incompatibility? Not necessarily. “Fighting frequently could be an example of two people who never learned how to communicate properly with each other,” Hurt says. “Fighting can also be an example of lashing out at your mate about something not related to your mate at all.” Sometimes maybe your SO has been bottling up their emotions, and you're the last straw on the camel's back. “It could be the only release they know,” he adds. “Fights/arguments are always symptoms, never the root cause of misbehavior problems in a relationship.” Fights can also help you grow and learn as a couple and be a form of expressing yourself. You might learn a lot about your partner through how they handle conflict and fights.
“Fighting isn’t bad because you’re just talking about your feelings cause you have to,” Dora, a recent graduate from The University of British Columbia, says. “It’s good but can do damage if you don’t know how to do it sensitively and sensibly.” How about from a guy’s perspective? Alan*, a college sophomore, weighs in. “I think it’s healthy and okay. If you don’t fight you might be neglecting your own feelings. But if you fight in the wrong way, then you might be belittling the feelings of another person. So it’s important to fight properly.”
A study found that fighting can be even good for your health; people who repressed their feelings of anger during fights had a shorter life span than those who allowed their emotions to manifest and discussed the issue.
Remember those cute emotion characters in Inside Out? You have to acknowledge and accept your emotions, because repressing them will negatively impact your emotional well-being and happiness. So while fights themselves aren’t necessarily bad for your relationship, how you fight is what really counts. Plus, improving how you fight may help it happen less in the future!
Ways to improve (and even prevent) fights with your SO
1. Try to communicate effectively
You’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s for good reason. Proper communication is truly one of the pillars of a healthy, lasting relationship — and it could be the key to fixing your fighting habits. “If we listen well, communicate effectively and make it a goal to be unselfish in relationships, we will minimize the fighting and make the fights we have minor in our relationships,” Hurt says. That sounds pretty good to us!
Ways to improve communication:
- Instead of putting on your fight mode as soon as your SO says something critical, pause and listen closely to what they are saying first. You might feel attacked, but chances are (hopefully) that’s not their intention.
- Try to acknowledge what the other person says: This will help both of you understand how you each feel. It helps to communicate that you’re actually considering what they’re saying and valuing their feelings. You might have been listening, but if you don’t give any verbal affirmation, your partner may think you weren’t.
- Don’t give the silent treatment — it’s immature and rude and it won’t accomplish anything.
- Check your body language. Try not to have a closed off stance, like folding your arms, and look at them when they’re talking to you.
- This should be pretty obvious, but don’t go on your phone or laptop when your partner is talking to you — this is also disrespectful and can add fuel to the fire.
2. Listen carefully and try to understand their feelings
Listening is half the battle in communicating effectively. After all, communication is a two way street. There are always two sides to a story — so instead of trying to project or assume what they are feeling, take the time to actually listen and consider their perspective. “When you think of them first and consider their feelings first, you are less likely to have reason to become upset or frustrated,” Hurt says.
Here’s some more food for thought from a college guy’s perspective. “The difficult thing about fighting is putting yourself in the shoes of the other person,” Alan says. “And that is the key to peacefully resolving and understanding why they are feeling what they’re feeling.” Once you understand why they are feeling or acting a certain way, you might have a completely different view on the situation.
3. Don’t try to read their mind and make assumptions
As cool as it would be if we were all like Professor X, it’s not possible. So stop trying to be like an X-men and reading people’s minds. “Most fights could be avoided if we as individuals made sure we were clear on our understanding of our partner and we took a moment to try to see things from their perspective,” Hurt says.
Also, never assume anything. It’s obvious, but not something people always put into practice: The best way to know what someone is thinking or feeling is to ask! “People can be so quick to assume, especially when you’re close to them,” Dora says. “Ask enough questions so you actually understand why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling and it’s actually coming from their mind not yours.” This isn’t a mystery for you to solve Sherlock style — just ask until you understand.
4. Don’t name-call
If you love this person, why would you ever want to put them down? “Never make it personal,” Hurt says. “Try to remember, you are upset, but you love this person. You want them to hear you, not for you to hurt them.”
Plus, name-calling can build resentment and contempt — not feelings you want to foster in any relationship. This pretty much sums it up: When you’re fighting, don’t attack the person.
5. Take a breather
If you’re getting super fired up and it’s escalating from zero to 100 real quick, sometimes it’s best to take a step back and cool off — whatever that means for you, whether it’s breathing deeply for 20 seconds or returning to the issue a few hours later.
“If it's just too heated and no one can ‘hear’ anyone at some point — take some time to walk away and come back and address with cooler heads later,” Hurt says. Be aware of when it’s getting out of hand and recognize when it’s time to take a step back so that you can discuss the issue at the best time.
6. Discuss the mistakes in your past arguments
Learn from your mistakes — it’s a cliché, but for good reason. If you take time to discuss with your partner what went wrong in your last fight, it might be your saving grace the next time things get heated.
“Know your defense mechanisms and know how to navigate around them so that you don’t continue making the same mistakes,” recommends Amanda*, a senior at The University of British Columbia. If you’ve been fighting about the same thing over and over again with no progress being made, try to rethink how you are going about it. Talking after a fight and trying to understand what went wrong can help you improve your understanding of each other and your compassion.
7. Have a game plan for fighting
There are different fighting styles, so understand that your partner may not fight the same way as you do. And once you’re aware of their tendencies, you can be better prepared to handle a disagreement.
After your fights, taking time to reflect isn’t enough — you need to apply what you learned to your future disagreements. Discussing when to compromise is also helpful.
8. Don’t use absolutes
Avoid saying “always” and “never.” “Never use absolutes because when you’re saying ‘you never listen to me’ or ‘you always mess up,’ it’s ignoring all the positive aspects and habits of the other person,” Alan says.
When you tell your partner that they never listen to you, you might be undermining all the times they did listen to you. Unless it really is an issue where they “always” or “never” say or do something, take a cue from Justin Bieber and “never say never.”
9. Try to show love and selflessness during fights
When you’re in the middle of an argument, the last thing you probably want to do is be loving to your partner. But it could make all the difference.
It also might help calm all the emotions you’re feeling. “Fights come from lack of the following — listening, understanding, caring, patience, compassion, empathy ... the list goes on and on,” Hurt says. “The best way to prevent fights is to try to put your partner first in all things — true unselfishness.” Sometimes just reaching out and letting them know you still love them can help bring your problems into perspective and help you see the bigger picture.
10. Don’t try to win a fight
Your relationship isn’t a game — there aren’t any winners in a fight. Trust me, coming from someone who’s super competitive, this isn’t the time to bring it. “It’s important not to a win a fight. What matters isn’t whether you win but how you fight,” Alan says. “So to understand someone else is to love them, not just try to force you upon them.”
Dora agrees. “Arguing is not like a debate,” she says. “The only way to win in a relationship is if you’re both happy. If the other person isn’t happy, you’re not winning either.” Let’s channel that competitive energy into something else, shall we?
Fights can be inevitable, but what you can control is how you fight. Everyone has different ways of dealing with fighting and remember what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. So try these different ways of coping and stick with the ones that work best for you and your SO!
*Name has been changed