Why We Fight

I hear this so often in marital counseling and even with friends and family. “So-and-so fights too much” or “I can’t stand it when we fight.” And my personal favorite, “it’s just something that we don’t discuss.”  Fighting has been frequently tagged as an indicator of an unstable and unhealthy dyadic relationship or family system. But is that depiction fair?

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states that confrontation is “the construction and destruction of mankind.” We engage with one another for the sake of progress, and sometimes that means addressing the obstacles that are in front of us.  To do otherwise would be to halt such progress, and ultimately, allow us to fall into stagnation. Dealing with a seemingly “unsolvable conflict” can make us feel stuck. Sometimes we may even practice avoidance because we want to "shield" our partner and protect him or her from letting us down. Instead of addressing our thoughts and feelings, we store them and allow them to become toxic. Attunement diminishes. Opportunities for strengthening the relationship are lost. Patterns turn into destructive habits. The relationship crumbles.

Fighting prevents that. Fighting is necessary. There is such a thing as healthy fighting in a satisfying, stable relationship. What does that look like though?

It can vary from relationship to relationship. Healthy fighting should include:

  • No physical or verbal abuse whatsoever.
  • A safe, private space for all parties involved to express one another effectively.
  • Your undivided attention. Limit distractions as much as possible. Sobriety is necessary.
  • More energy towards listening than talking, about a 3 to 1 ratio.
  • Giving each person the opportunity to express himself/herself uninterrupted.
  • The practice of recognizing and acknowledging indicators of discomfort in your partner and adjusting delicately and accordingly.
  • A potential solution provided - what would allow for this to be resolved for all parties involved?
  • Success in acknowledging the fighting cycle. "You" and "I" statements are an excellent tool for identifying and addressing recurring problems - ex: "When you do __________, I do ___________, then you do ___________, and I respond with ___________."
  • A duration/frequency limit. Productive arguments should last no more than a half hour with few exceptions of the circumstance. Breaks can be of great help.
  • Honesty and openness.
  • An ending. Revisiting the fight over and over again through a small patch of time rarely helps to find new solutions.

Struggling couples may already implement these strategies and think to themselves, "we know how to fight." But how do you repair? Fighting, even when successful, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining - especially if the argument was focused on a sensitive topic. One should consider the introduction of a post-fight ritual. De-escalation. Bringing down the energy or putting it somewhere that may allow for "construction" to take place. A few examples:

  • Massages
  • Cooking a meal together
  • Going for a walk
  • Pillow fights! (trust me)
  • Some brief distance. Respect the de-escalation process of your partner!
  • Exercising
  • Couples bath or shower
  • Find a funny movie you both enjoy
  • Plan for something exciting - a trip, remodeling of the house, or social gathering
  • Share a delicacy such as a fancy coffee or dessert shop

What are some feel-good, positive activities that you and your loved one can enjoy? They don't have to always cost money or a lot of time. Take a moment to be creative, but it doesn't always have to be. What types of activities can elicit reciprocated appreciation for one another? Don't put too much pressure on this. Experiment and troubleshoot what works for you and your partner. Discuss it with one another. Build newer moments to redefine the relationship.

Questions? Comments? Shoot me an e-mail at desongytherapy@gmail.com or tweet/follow me @DonnySongy. I'm going to keep adding to the list of repair activities throughout the remainder of the month, so feel free to provide some suggestions!