Fighting with Your Partner: Why it’s GOOD

I think one of the keys to a successful marriage is the ability to fight with your spouse.

I don’t mean reality TV type fights. I don’t mean Chris Brown and Rihanna type fights. I mean healthy, productive fights.

Cory and I have been together for almost 8 years now, and we contribute our success to our way-open lines of communication. And yes, that does include fighting. Or, as I like to call it, passionately disagreeing.

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I’m not afraid to fight with Cory because I trust him and I love him. I feel safe fighting with Cory because I know at the end of it, we’ll walk away stronger than before. Our fights rarely linger past the initial “argument” and then we’re good to go.

The good news: We’re not relationship gurus.

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Obviously. 

But because I am obsessed with couples and relationship counseling, I feel lucky to have stumbled upon John and Julie Gottman years ago – and as a result, I kiss they ground they walk upon.

From the Gottmans work, we’ve learned how to fight productively. It’s healthy to fight with your partner! It’s okay to disagree! It’s wonderful to challenge each other!

What’s not okay is when you do it in the wrong ways. I see couples break up all the time because they succumb to what the Gottmans call, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Criticism – This is detrimental because you’re attacking your partner’s character. You sling filthy words like, “you never” and “you always.”

Remedy: Use I statements. “I feel ____” and “When ______ happened, I felt ____”

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Contempt – In a fight, this looks like name calling, eye rolling, sarcasm…anything with the intent to attack your partner’s sense of self and/or psychologically abuse them.

Remedy: Avoid low blows. They’re dirty and cheap.

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Defensiveness – When fighting, you act as the victim, never wanting to claim any responsibility. You may say things like, “yes, BUT” or cross-complain, which is basically ignoring your partner’s complaint and meeting it with a complaint of your own.

Remedy: Listen and validate what your partner is bringing to the table. Allow them to speak without being interrupted. If you need to take notes while they speak so you know which points to later address, so be it.

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Stonewalling – Disguised as “neutral” but in reality it’s avoidant and can been perceived as cold, isolating, smugness, or distant.

Remedy: Be present. Do not leave (physically or mentally) in the middle of the argument. The silent treatment is for middle schoolers, not adults in a committed relationship.

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Am I perfect? Hello no! Do I fight perfectly? Never. But I do know which “horseman” I fall prey to most often, so I try my best to to prevent “fighting dirty” — and that tends to make all the difference.

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28 Responses to Fighting with Your Partner: Why it’s GOOD

  1. Ashley Cooper says:

    Love this! I’ve always said one of the keys to a successful, happy relationship is knowing how to argue! Love these tips, so true!

  2. I agree completely. I think arguing can be a good thing because it challenges one another … whether it be to see / understand another viewpoint or work on a personal weakness. But you’re right, the key is arguing CORRECTLY. No low blows … although they’re hard in the heat of the moment!

  3. 100% agree with you! Knowing how to disagree with your partner is something every person needs to learn. It took me years to figure it all out, and I’m still learning (i.e. sometimes I still fight dirty). But with open communication and both people being vulnerable about their feelings, it becomes a little easier – at least that’s what 2 years of marriage has taught me! Great post!

  4. My dad (the psychologist ;) ) would love this post- great tips!
    David and I both are not natural fighter or screamers, and I appreciate that we rarely fight. I credit it to the fact that we do a pretty good job of communicating, so maybe they just don’t feel like fights, but rather talking out our different view points?
    Tomato, to-mah-to ;)

    Great post!

  5. Danica says:

    I completely agree with this! Fighting is just part of any relationship. My husband and I really don’t fight often, and we both absolutely hate confrontation, but we’re not afraid to disagree with each other. We’ve been together for over 7 years now and I nodded and agreed with you – we love each other and we know that neither of us is going anywhere. Our relationship is a safe place to say whatever we’re feeling!

  6. We sex fight. Super fun. ;)

  7. Lori Corley says:

    Love this. The “Four Horsemen” are referenced in The Happiness Project, which I’m in the middle of reading!

  8. Cait says:

    This is so true! I def need to read up on it. Thanks girl!

  9. Chelsea says:

    Love this post!

  10. I’m a terrible fighter. I get super defensive and mean. (I’m trying to get better though!) I do agree that it’s better to get things out than to keep it in!! Thanks for the tips! :)

  11. foodiecology says:

    Thank goodness I married such a forgiving, loving, and considerate man, because I sadly fight pretty dirty. I’m really bad about laying the blame on others. I DO try my BEST to fight clean, and generally when Mark and I fight, we quickly make up, discuss our feelings reasonably, and are stronger as a couple because of it. But, dang, I really need to work on the 4 horsemen (especially contempt & criticism).
    Oh, and I guess the fact that my husband is a therapist helps him deal with me, too! ;-)

  12. Caroline says:

    When I saw the title of this post I was going to leave a comment asking if you had read anything of the Gottmans, but there you went and talked about them already :) They have great stuff.

  13. Kelsey says:

    I agree with you 100%, and I am so happy I learned about Gottman’s work so early on during my undergrad for psychology. I think my boyfriend and I “fight” in the same way, and I feel we walk away stronger than before as well.

  14. Preach it sister. Love this! I couldn’t agree more. My husband and I are communicating nonstop (sometimes I wonder if he gets sick of me talking to him), and that absolutely includes some arguments. It drives me a little crazy when couples will brag that “they never fight” because really, that doesn’t impress me at all. I like to see a little passion in a relationship! I love your tips for keeping it healthy too.

    • Colleen says:

      I hear ya, girlfriend! When couples tell me they “never fight” makes me roll my eyes. Yeahhh okay, that’ll blow up eventually.

  15. Great tips!!! My husband and I are both stubborn and fight quite a bit, but we always come out stronger so that’s what matters!

  16. ah great post, just what I needed to read. some days marriage is a piece of cake, walk in the park with your best friend. And others it’s not so peachy. But, I totally agree with you.. I feel safe when we fight, we love each other too much.

  17. Juli says:

    I agree 100%! If you can’t fight with someone the relationship is probably not healthy. What a funny way to introduce such a importent lesson!

    I’ve sent a link to that post to my husband. This is what he texted back: “I didn’t know you could draw comics of our life like that :-)

    I am a bit of a fighter sometimes but I am very careful not to fight dirty. As you say it’s cheap and hurting someone you love that way is just too much!

  18. Rose says:

    Great post!
    I am not married but have been with/living with my boyfriend for 3 1/2 years.. so we have had life issues come up along the way. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my insecurities and how I need to communicate better.. It’s hard though because I’ve noticed he gets very defensive and a small issue can turn into a big one, so I tend to avoid it and… it’s a bad cycle. Maybe I should look into this book!! I do not try to fight dirty but sometimes things come out (eye rolls, sarcasm) and I need to remember how hurtful those can be. We work opposite schedules, so it can be tough sometimes.. communicating our needs and things like that. Anyways, lots of food for though here, loved it.

  19. Jess says:

    Although I’m not married, I do fight with my 7.5-years boyfriend, and oh-my I fall for everything you mentioned! We have work to do, but I know is a long and hard path. Sometimes our egos fall of the rail, and we believe ourselves so darn perfect! Relationships are about self-discovery and mutual discovery everyday, and fights are part of them. Obviously they shound’t be the everyday rule, but to survive without becoming a murderer, we have to say what we think. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I’ve been told about the 4 horsemen before and it all is so easy to apply. We actually do the first one a lot. We start with “I have a problem, when [this] happens it makes me feel like _________.” It definitely helps. I definitely agree that fighting is a good thing. We were encouraged to do it before we got married actually haha. No problemos now though…kidding…kind of.

  21. sarah says:

    great post. I agree that it is healthy to fight with your spouse. ryan and I don’t try to hide our fights infront of thekid either-instead, we are “fair fighters” and show the importance of respecting a disagreement and the importance of an apology.

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