8 Ways Fighting Can Bring You Closer
We have all had fights with our romantic partner at some time or another. Some people think fighting is bad and always spells trouble for the future of a relationship. Others believe the old adage that it’s ok to fight as long as you never going to sleep angry. While it’s true that most couples try to avoid fighting altogether, research has shown that it’s better to fight than to hold onto your anger. In fact, fighting can actually bring a couple closer together, as long as you do it right!
How effective are you when it comes to fighting with your significant other? Do you wind up feeling angry and divided? Or do you end up feeling united and closer together than ever before? Researchers tell us that every conflict presents an opportunity to improve the relationship. The key to success for any couple depends primarily on HOW we fight. To find out how you’re doing, send me your email below and I’ll send you a quiz that will test your relationship and tell you whether your fights are helpful or destructive to the bond you share.
If it seems like you and your significant other are fighting more often, you are not alone. After studying thousands of couples, psychologist Eli Finkel found that there has been a precipitous decline in marriage satisfaction over the past four decades. The reason? Couples are looking for their partners to replace the companionship and emotional support once provided by extended families and local institutions, like churches, fraternal lodges, and garden clubs. At the same time, many couples are spending less and less time together due to demands of their jobs and parenting responsibilities. This has resulted in a deficit of emotional intimacy and support in one of our most important relationships — with our significant other.
Psychologist Ty Tashiro found that most couples end up fighting about similar subjects: free time, money, housework, physical intimacy, and extended family. Sound familiar? It should! What’s important to remember, though, is that fighting is not the sign of a sick relationship. In fact, it can be the sign of a healthy relationship, depending on HOW you are fighting. When your partner approaches you, do you respond with kindness or contempt?
Contempt or Kindness?
In 1986, John Gottman gathered data from 130 couples in what he called his “Love Lab.” He observed that throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection with one another that he referred to as “bids,” a sign of interest or support. When a partner makes a bid, the other has a choice of responding by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from the other.
Let’s say that the wife is interested in adopting rescue dogs and she notices a very cute terrier on an adoption website. She might say to her husband, “Look at this adorable terrier!” She’s not just commenting on the dog, she’s making an emotional bid and requesting a response from her husband. He may respond by “turning toward” his partner with a sign of interest and support and they may connect, momentarily, over the dog.
On the other hand, if he does not respond or responds minimally and continues doing whatever he was doing before, like looking at his Twitter feed, he will be “turning away” from his wife. Sometimes, the husband will respond with overt contempt and say something like, “Stop interrupting me. Can’t you see I’m busy?” and the bidding interaction will fail completely. The ways in which partners handle these bids for emotional intimacy profoundly affect a couple’s wellbeing.
Contempt, Gottman found, is the number one reason couples fell apart. People who focus on criticizing their partner or giving their partner the cold shoulder damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible. Neglect creates distance between partners and breeds resentment in the one who is feeling ignored. In fact, people who treat their partners with contempt not only kill the love in the relationship but also kill their partner’s health by destroying their immune system: people in toxic relationships have been shown to be more susceptible to viruses and autoimmune disease.
Kindness, though, binds relationships together. Research has shown that kindness, along with emotional stability, is the most important predictor of satisfaction in a couple. Active, constructive responding is the most effective way to react to your partner’s bids for emotional intimacy. “Turning toward” your partner with kindness can make a partner feel cared for, understood, and loved.
Does this mean that couples that fight are in hopeless relationships? Not at all! Fighting is not the sign of a doomed relationship. In fact, some fighting is perfectly normal and can actually be healthy depending on how it’s done. Working with couples in my private practice, I’ve developed 8 ways that fighting can bring a couple closer together, not by fighting less, but by fighting better.
How to Fight Successfully
1. Don’t Run and Hide
To quote the Buddha, “Holding on to your anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It does no good to keep your anger to yourself and try to punish the other person with your silence. Be brave and face up to your partner right away. You will not only feel better but you will also live longer.
2. Develop a Kind Mindset
Calm yourself down by checking in with yourself and your feelings. Pause to breathe deeply and return to your center. Become clear of your intentions and cultivate a kind and accepting attitude toward your partner.
3. Agree to Disagree
Start with agreement. Decide what the issue is you’re trying to resolve and see where you both agree. Then outline the difference of opinion. Make it clear that you will work with your partner to find a solution to the disagreement.
4. Don’t Be Cruel
Eye rolling is a classic sign of contempt. Decide in advance that you will not lower yourself to schoolyard tactics, no matter how heated things get. That means no name-calling, biting sarcasm, or harsh criticism. Treat your partner and your relationship with respect.
5. No Generalizations
Don’t start out by saying, “You never…” or “You always…” These statements are way too broad and make your partner feel attacked. Instead, start with, “I feel…when you…” Be precise about the situation that bothers you and don’t call up past offenses.
6. Listen Empathically
Put yourself into your partner’s shoes and hear them out. Listen to their perspective on things and make them feel understood and accepted. Repeating back to them what you heard them say in your own words can easily do this. It works like magic in any situation.
7. Use Body Language
Look your partner in the eye and sit with an open body posture. Uncross your arms and legs and face forward. No one should be looking up or looking down during an argument. Reach out and touch their hand or shoulder or back. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish through simple touch.
8. Get to the Underlying Issue
If you understand the underlying issue, it will be much easier to solve. For example, if a couple is arguing about housework, the problem may be less about the allocation of chores and more about feeling appreciated. In this case, the solution would be for each partner to take notice and make more positive comments about the housework contributions of the significant other. In other words, amp up the kindness!
Romantic relationships are important for our happiness and well-being. Yet, with more than 40% of all marriages ending in divorce, it’s obvious that staying in a long-term relationship isn’t easy! If you find yourself having recurring fights about money, parenting, intimacy, or anything else, don’t wait until things deteriorate to strengthen your relationship. Couples counseling can teach you new ways to fight more effectively, communicate more openly, and spice things up a bit to keep your relationship happy and healthy.
If you would like more help with your relationship, I would love to hear from you. Give me a call or send me an email so we can set up a time to talk.