Can healthy couples fight too much? How much fighting is healthy?
No two people agree on everything. That’s undoubtedly true in marriage. (If it’s not true in yours, then I’d really like to meet you. And really… why are you even reading this?) The result is often misunderstanding, a failure to see eye to eye, and a tug-of-war to get each other’s point across. Sometimes, a fight ensues.
An important caveat right off the bat: Many people say they “fight” when they argue or disagree. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you are experiencing “fighting” in marriage (if not, see the paragraph above). But for others, this word evokes memories of violence and abuse, which is never okay. For our purposes here, fighting is used to describe verbal disagreements.
With that in mind, hear this loud and clear: Even happy, healthy couples fight.
Congrats: You’re normal!
A 2012 survey would even suggest that “highly happy couples” describe some of their arguments as “painful.” (Food for thought: The survey also indicates that these couples might be “highly happy” because they know, even during a fight, that they care about and want what’s best for each other. I’ll just leave that right here…)
As a matter of fact, never fighting could indicate that the relationship is in a less-than-ideal place. Experts say that avoiding conflict and discussing differences can cause a buildup of frustration and resentment that leads to problems in the long run.1,2
Truthfully, it’s not whether you fight or even necessarily how often you fight that matters. It’s how you fight that matters.
Here are five warning signs that can tell you if your disagreements are unhealthy:
1. The same, sore subject keeps coming up. Over. And Over. And Over…
Whether it’s how the dishes go on the rack, how one of you works too much, or the fact that your mother-in-law makes that annoying sound when she laughs… It always comes up and causes a ruckus. And it never gets resolved.
2. Communication roadblocks emerge.
Researcher John Gottman identifies four negative communication patterns that cause trouble:
Criticism: Blaming, fault-finding, or attacking your spouse’s character
Contempt: Communicating with meanness, disrespect, sarcasm, ridicule,
Defensiveness: Fishing for excuses, avoidance of accepting responsibility, or
blame back to your spouse
Stonewalling: Withdrawal from interaction, shutting down, or ceasing to respond
to your spouse
3. You feel like you understand each other less.
Disagreements and differences of opinion can be opportunities to better understand your spouse’s point of view. However, when your main goal is to get your point across or simply “win” the argument, you come out on the other side with less understanding of the person you love the most.
4. You can’t reach a resolution.
No matter the subject of disagreement, it’s always left open-ended. No solution, compromise, or forgiveness. Not even an agreement to disagree. And because of that, there’s no sense of closure.
5. You’re not okay to agree to disagree.
Often, couples use this phrase to simply avoid arguing. However, it can be healthy to recognize that you’re not going to see things eye to eye. One study indicates that only about a third of the couples’ conversations are resolvable issues. The rest are simply ongoing areas of disagreement.3 This doesn’t mean a couple can’t find workable compromises. It just means you’re not going to see things the same way on a particular subject.
If you’re like me, you never experience any of these warning signs… amiright? The truth is, they pop up in every couple’s communication from time to time. Remember: Healthy couples fight. But when these signs become a regular pattern, beware: Trouble’s a-brewin’.
The good news is that you can avoid all these things. Healthy communication and conflict skills can be learned and practiced. (Looky here and here and here). Outside help is sometimes a great idea, too. A trusted mediator can help determine compromises. And don’t be afraid to use a professional counselor to help get through more deep-seated issues.
There are times when it’s good and healthy for couples to fight, but it really does matter how you fight. You’ve got this.
1Hackman, J.Richard., Collaborative intelligence: Using teams to solve hard problems, Oakland, CA: Berrit-Koeller, 2011.
2Orbuch, Terri L., Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Austin, TX: River Grove Books, 2015.
3Gottman, John M., The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2011.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Untitled-14-01.png5001200Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-12-14 14:34:302022-05-10 13:58:32How Much Should Healthy Couples Fight?