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SALT LAKE CITY — Whatever term you use, fights, arguments, squabbles, conflicts and disagreements in relationships are generally regarded as a negative.
When a couple comes in for therapy, one of the most important aspects of the relationship that is assessed is how they fight. A good couples therapist will worry more about the couple that says they do not fight at all, rather than the couple that openly admits they have conflict. This is because the couple that claims to have no conflict in the relationship is either not being entirely truthful, or there is not enough safety in the relationship for arguments, disagreements or fights to occur.
Fighting is actually extremely healthy and necessary. Now, it is important to say here that this does not mean physical, verbal or emotional abuse is OK, good or healthy in a relationship. The term fighting in this article refers to the differences in opinion, irritations, arguments and conflicts that are normal and bound to happen in any healthy relationship.
So what are the benefits of fighting?
Clearing the air
One benefit of fighting is that it gives each partner a chance to air any grievances or problems they are experiencing in the relationship. We all have them and they are unavoidable.
It is impossible to be in a relationship with another human being, romantic or otherwise, and not have differences of opinions, quirks that bother the other person or some degree of irritation at some point. If partners are not talking about grievances, it is likely that one or both partners are avoiding bringing up what is bothering them.
Openly discussing the things that are irritating to each other can help a couple clear away any tension that might be present due to these very normal issues. It is far better to discuss in a productive and respectful way what bothers you about your partner or vice versa instead of keeping it inside and allowing it to fester, which usually leads to resentment and increased irritation.
Enhancing intimacy in a relationship
When a couple feels safe enough to discuss complaints in a healthy way, intimacy is enhanced, particularly if each party feels that his or her opinion was heard. Sometimes feeling heard is all that is needed to resolve a conflict.
Defenses drop when both parties feel that their opinions and feelings are valid, and lower defenses mean an increase in emotional and physical intimacy can occur and be better than before the argument took place.
It is often that a couple will be having major conflict in their relationship due to a misunderstanding in intention or message from one partner to the other.
When a couple is willing to sit down and discuss their perceptions and intentions regarding a conflict, both parties can gain a better understanding of where the other partner is coming from. This can result in getting to know each other on a deeper level and can be preventative for future misunderstandings, stopping them before they turn into something bigger.
How do you fight in a way that is both productive and healthy for your relationship?
Validation is not an admittance of guilt or being wrong
Often, couples will avoid validating each other’s opinions for fear that doing so will result in the message that he or she is admitting to being guilty or wrong. Validation is actually about letting your partner know you are hearing him or her. It is not agreement with his or her point of view; it is simply saying, “Your feelings and perceptions are valid even if mine are different.”
Often, couples will avoid validating each other's opinions for fear that doing so will result in the message that he or she is admitting to being guilty or wrong. Validation is actually about letting your partner know you are hearing him or her. It is not agreement with his or her point of view; it is simply saying, "Your feelings and perceptions are valid even if mine are different."
The power of validation is incredible. It lowers defenses and creates safety, which, as discussed above, can enhance intimacy.
Saying something like, “What I am hearing you say is that you feel upset and disrespected that I didn’t call when I was going to be late” is far more productive in a discussion than a statement like “I can’t believe you are accusing me of purposely being disrespectful!”
Once you have validated your partner’s point of view without sarcasm or malice, he or she is going to be more likely to then listen to and validate your point of view and feelings about the situation.
Assume that your partner has good intentions and remember why you choose to be with them
When conflict in a relationship arises, we can often forget why we like our partner. When defenses are high, we often assume that our partner is trying to get to us in some way. It is true that in some relationships, extremely unhealthy dynamics exist where one or both partners are abusive and try to maliciously harm the other partner. If that is the case, it is important to seek professional help immediately.
However, in a non-abusive, healthy relationship, it is important to remember that you chose to be with your partner for a reason and that you like them. Assume that your partner may just be trying to be heard and could also have some strong emotions about the conflict at hand. When we can see our partners in a positive light (and this does take a conscious effort during a fight), we are less likely to be defensive and can more easily validate their perceptions and emotions.
Keep it short and to the point
Think about the message you want to convey and try to keep it to four sentences or less. People tend to tune out when someone goes on and on about all the complaints they want to express. Tackle one issue at a time and even focus on one part of the issue if it helps you to keep the communication short and to the point.
If you overwhelm your partner with too much information, they may become overwhelmed and confused. This is also how fights often get off topic and then both partners end up confused about what they were fighting about in the first place.
Most people do not enjoy having conflict with their partner. However, since it is unavoidable, make the most of the conflicts you do have and utilize them to help your relationships to become stronger and healthier.
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email email@example.com.