Relationships & Fights

The Rumor: Fighting isn’t good for relationships

Have you ever met a couple that didn’t fight? Neither have we. There’s strife and disagreements in virtually all relationships, even between friends, family, coworkers and so on. But is fighting with your significant other a sign of trouble, or is the occasional (or even frequent) spat perfectly normal and even healthy?

The Verdict: It all depends how you fight

No two people agree on everything all the time. But reverting to negative behaviors like sarcasm, name-calling, eye rolling and dredging up ancient issues is not the way to go about it. In fact, eye rolling, an indicator of disdain, is at the top of the list of divorce

Voicing complaints with a “soft start” is a much better approach than expressing contempt or disdain with eye rolling or sarcasm . Listening to your partner, staying open to being wrong, apologizing and maybe even managing a laugh or two — that’s the stuff of a fair fight. Fair fighting keeps hurt from being bottled and buried, yet doesn’t explode your partner’s tender spots, which over time can irreparably erode the fabric of a relationship.

One of the most important factors in fighting fair and constructively lies at the root of our personalities: the ego. “You have to get to the point where you want to let go of the ego because you want real communication and love in your life,” says David Richo, psychotherapist and author of How to Be an Adult in Love: Letting Love in Safely and Showing it Recklessly. “The ego can’t love. It can assert itself, but it can’t embrace others.” He calls this the “ego mindset.” This mindset, Richo says, “has to be right, can’t apologize, has to be first, has to be on top, has to be acknowledged, can’t receive feedback, takes information as a judgment and immediately reacts with defensiveness.” Sound familiar?

If you want to fight fair, you’ve got to ditch your ego. “As long as the fighting includes ego, then it’s useless to fight; it’s useless to struggle,” Richo says. “You’re not going to get anywhere. You’ll have to tiptoe around so he gets to believe that he’s right while you still get what you want, which is kind of a tricky style.”

To begin to dismantle the ego mindset, it helps to have some kind of mindfulness or meditation practice, but even just taking a moment to get real about your thoughts and feelings will help.

And it’s key to practice doing this while calm. “You can’t notice [the ego mindset] when your adrenaline is flowing,” Richo says. As we hone our awareness, we can start to see when we’re speaking from defensiveness or wanting to win, and when we’re being vulnerable and honest and working toward a common good.

Many relationship experts say the essence of constructive fighting is being able to tackle a problem, not each other. “Place [the conflict] between you as an issue you both need to work on,” says Richo. “And by ‘work,’ I mean that each person can state what is going on for him or her; express whatever feelings are connected to it and try to work back and forth without interrupting and let each person be heard. This way you can work toward the goal of coming up with a plan or agreement that will make things better later.”

When you actually get down to working through your issues, Richo suggests boning up on your communication skills. That involves “not interrupting, truly listening rather than thinking of what you’re going to say next, and the sincere commitment to work something out together rather than making sure to get your licks in,” he says. In essence, you’re drawing on the Dalai Lama, not the Pentagon. Richo also advises against using sarcasm. “Its purpose is to hurt the other person somehow, or to triumph,” he notes.

As we come to agreements about how to shift things in a relationship, Richo says, compromise isn’t always the best way to go about things. “In compromise, I’m gritting my teeth and building resentment and it’s going to come back later,” he says.

“Whereas in negotiation, you try to work it out.” Negotiation may take more time and effort, but the results may be so enriching, satisfying and intimacy-bolstering that fighting could become something you and your partner (almost) look forward to.

Culled from


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