- Name calling like “stupid” or “b*tch” are signs you are not fighting fairly
- Bringing up the past
- Button pushing such as “you’re just like your father” or “I always knew I shouldn’t trust you after you cheated on your ex.”
- Following your partner from room to room and not allowing a cooling off period if requested
- Having to have the last word
- Intimidation or controlling through fear of loss/breakup
- Storming out
- Physical violence toward your partner or inanimate objects around them
Do You Fight Too Much In Your Relationship?
In relationships, some conflict is expected. No matter how much you love someone, the two of you will disagree from time to time. Do you know how much fighting is TOO much?
A high-conflict couple is one that fights often, fights dirty, or believes that one partner “wins” a fight. In relationships, winning a fight means coming to an understanding or agreement. There is no way for you to win and someone you care about to lose. However, the win/lose mindset is very common in a high conflict couple – one person gets what they want and they feel they have won, but actually it damages the relationship.
How Do I Know If I Am Part of a High Conflict Couple?
If you fight every week, or even every day, you might be part of a high conflict relationship. We don’t always have the healthiest role models in our families of origin. If your parents yelled and name-called, it’s likely that you do too. After all, that’s what is normal to you. Just because it’s what you KNOW doesn’t mean it’s healthy however! It is up to us, as adults, to unlearn the behaviors we were taught that do not benefit us.
No one can tell you how much fighting is “too much” but if you feel that you fight more than you should, it is likely that you and your partner are not resolving your conflicts.
- Taking turns listening and speaking without interrupting
- Rephrasing what your partner says and repeating it back so that you make sure you understand. This is called active listening.
- Taking a time out if it gets too heated
- Staying on topic
- Conversational tone, not yelling
- No name calling or cursing
- Taking responsibility for your part
- Refusing to take responsibility for your partner’s part
- Behaving respectfully
- No threatening to break up or divorce
- Apologizing when appropriate
- Knowing that the truth is in the middle, one person isn’t all right and the other all wrong.
How Do I Learn to Fight Fair?
If you learned unhealthy ways of communicating by watching your parents fight, you are not doomed to be part of a high-conflict couple for the rest of your life! You can learn new ways to resolve conflict in a way that lets both partners – and therefore the relationship – win. The most important first step is for both of the people in the relationship to agree to “fair fight” rules. Unfortunately if only you change your behavior, that may not be enough to change your partner’s behavior. We do react to each other but these communication patterns are habits that we often don’t realize are even things we learned – we see them as who we are.
If you want your relationship to be free from conflict, you both must be willing to change your behavior. If your partner thinks there is nothing wrong with how they act and react, it will make fair fighting nearly impossible.
Fair Fighting Rules
First, both partners agree to respect each other and themselves by arguing in a way that is constructive rather than actually fighting. This does not mean that you will never slip back into old communication patterns, especially at first, but committing to speaking to one another with respect is the most important aspect of healthy communication.
Refer to the healthy communication list if necessary – no yelling, no screaming, no name calling, no violence. These are the basic ground rules of any and all fair fights.
If you are feeling upset, ask yourself why you are upset before a fight even begins. Are your feelings about this situation or is it about something from the past? Is it about your partner or are you reacting more strongly to the dishes not being done because you didn’t sleep well last night or you have a stressful presentation at work tomorrow?
Don’t take it personally – most of the time, the way people act, think, and speak has nothing to do with us. Even if it is directed at us! Humans are complicated, and like it or not we bring stress from places like work, school, family, etc into our intimate relationships.
Own your own feelings and part in the conflict. Do not expect your partner to take responsibility for your feelings or your actions. No one “makes” you yell. It is not your spouse’s responsibility to keep you from feeling lonely or sad or to “make” you happy. Your partner doesn’t “give you no choice” but to call him or her names or become violent.
Remind yourself that no one is going to win this fight. The only way to win is to come to resolution that is agreeable to both partners. Compromise gets a bad reputation. Compromise is not one of you agreeing to the other person’s demands or conforming to his or her perspective, it is both of you coming together to agree on something that works for both of you.
Take a break if you feel like you can’t control your anger or words. Allow your partner to take a break if they need one. “Not letting the sun go down on anger” is a silly concept that causes some couples to fight late into the night. If you are too tired or too angry to be productive, it is best to take a break. You might take a walk, go to separate rooms and do different activities, whatever you need to do to calm down. This is different than storming out because when you both agree to take a break, you pick a time to finish the discussion. If you want to take a walk around the neighborhood you say: “I need a break. I am going to go take a walk, let’s finish this conversation in 30 minutes.”
This list was inspired by the Fair Fighting Rules handout from TherapistAid
“All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think?”
Be Patient With Yourself and Your Partner
“It is well established that emotional arousal affects what one does and how one thinks. Research from about one hundred years ago points out that while low or moderate amounts of stress and arousal help keep one focused… however, when the arousal increases beyond a moderate level, reactions change dramatically.”
Learning a new way to communicate is difficult. Learning not to take things personally can be really hard if you tend to take things other people say and do personally. If you or your partner, or both of you, tend toward uncontrollable anger or violence when arguing, it may not be emotionally safe to do this on your own. Therapists and counselors who offer couples and marriage counseling can help you both by giving you a safe place to talk about tough subjects, as well as helping to give you both perspective on your behavior. While you might not be open to your partner telling you that you are defensive, you are likely going to listen to a therapist who tells you that you are defensive.
Seeking help does not mean that your relationship is doomed or that there is anything wrong with it, it simply means that the two of you need help in getting to where you want to be as a couple.
Stacey is a therapist in the Jackson, MS area. She offers couples counseling to couples who need some guidance sorting through what is going on in their relationship. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Stacey at the Grace Christian Counseling Center in Canton, MS or Vicksburg, MS please call the office 601-636-5703 or use the contact form for questions.
Stacey Aldridge, LCSW