Did you know that couples that love each other the most, fight the most? True story.
You may have imagined when you were young that finding the perfect spouse would mean rainbows, butterflies and breakfast in bed every weekend. And then you grew up, had a failed relationship or two and realized that your childhood dreams of romance may have been a bit unrealistic.
Relationships have been studied since the beginning of time. Scientists, therapists, love experts (yes, that’s actually a thing) and psychologists have long looked deep into the heart of what makes a good relationship tick and a not so good one crumble.
While there are the obvious reasons why relationships work/don’t work, one surprising result these studies have yielded is that if you want a rock solid, long lasting relationship, you have to fight for it.
Regardless of how well you get along with your partner, you are always going to have conflicts. Sure you may both love hiking and staying up way too late watching movies together, but there are going to be things you don’t agree on.
Maybe you had a girlfriend once who talked too openly about your relationship with her friends and it drove you nuts. Maybe your ex-boyfriend took you out for Indian food on Valentine’s Day even though you told him a hundred times you hate curry!
Whether you experience differences of desires, goals, beliefs, or behaviors, conflict will arise and it will most likely arise often.
Every Good Relationship Begins with Good Communication
Imagine the kettle of hot water left boiling so long that the whistling of the steam sounds like the whole thing may blow at any minute. The water did not reach this boiling point the instant it was turned on. It took time.
The same is true for relationships. If there is not good communication and if feelings aren’t conveyed to each other, the kettle will eventually reach its boiling point and the relationship will end.
The best way to solve your problems and get on the same page is to fight! Now, does this mean you need to conjure a red face, throw plates at each other or pull a Carrie Underwood and key your boyfriend’s jeep? Not necessarily.
Studies show that there are three main fighting styles, so to speak, that couples embrace. Let’s take a look.
The Good Communication Style. This is the style of “fighting” where both people in the relationship consistently work on communication and address each other’s feelings. They sit down, talk and work through things immediately when conflict arises.
Of course, “sit down” isn’t always literal. There may be some yelling back and forth, pacing, and throwing of hands in the air, but the point is you work through it together and find compromise and peace as a result.
The Volatile Style. Some people have a tendency to erupt easily when upset by something that happened and in a relationship this can be one sided or include both people. This can often disrupt a relationship because it can show that you’re more interested in yelling at your partner (or he at you) rather than actually fighting.
The Ignore It Style. Perhaps the most traditional, yet dangerous method of dealing with conflict in a relationship is by NOT dealing with it. The people that have no interest in dealing with problems tend to ignore, rather than talk about, the things that annoy or bother them in a relationship, and this can be catastrophic.
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
So, what does all this fighting talk have to do with picking the right person to date?
Love is worth fighting for!
How to Fight the Good Fight
The most important thing to remember when dealing with conflict in a relationship is to have respect for one another. Whether you are dealing with a small issue (your girlfriend keeps leaving her gum wrappers in your car) or a life changing one (your boyfriend just confided that he’s been married before), showing respect for each other while communicating is vital.
So, how do you show respect for each other when you’re upset?
Take a step back. You may want to yell and scream all sorts of nasty things, but taking a step back will give you a minute to calm down and think through the things you need to say.
Look them in the eye. Don’t skirt the issue. Don’t save it for another day. Go to the root of the problem and deal with it before it grows out of control.
Take their hand. You may be fuming, but there is something about taking the hand of someone you love that allows establish a feeling of connectedness. Hold their hand tight as you talk through your conflict.
Write a letter. Many people I know use journals to help communicate their feelings to each other. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking their partner a question about something they’ve been stewing on for a while. If you’re having a hard time finding your voice about something that concerns you, write to your partner. This shows them that you cared enough to take the time to sort through your words carefully instead of just using them to attack.
Make that midnight call. If you’ve been sitting on a problem and it is eating at you, to the point where you fear it may damage your relationship, make that late night phone call. While many people will tell you to wait until daylight to discuss life’s problems, sometimes the still of the night is exactly the place where they can be conquered.
Call in a mediator. Is there a problem you can’t seem to work through on your own? Set up a joint appointment with a spiritual director or counselor. You’ll come out stronger on the other side.
Forgive and forget. It can be hard to move past some of life’s conflicts, but we all have faults and being in a relationship means forgiving each other’s faults … often.
Loving each other means respecting each other. While fighting is important, it’s necessary that it be out of love, not war.
What NOT to do When Fighting
Just as important as the things you should do when fighting, are the things you shouldn’t do. No matter how upset or hurt you are, never:
Criticize. Belittling or criticizing your partner can not only hurt their personhood, but slowly chip away at the core of your relationship. This is totally different than constructive criticism.
Be defensive. If you are always defending yourself, you’re showing an inability to take responsibility for your actions. This belittles your partner’s attempts at communication and tells them that you’re not really willing to work on improving the relationship.
Show contempt. Eye-rolling, name-calling, putting the other person down. Not allowed in a relationship. Ever.
Stone-walling. If your partner wants to discuss something and you refuse, there is no way to continue a healthy relationship. You may think that everything is ok, but the foundation will begin crumbling the minute you turn away from them.
Relationships have never been easy. All you have to do is take a quick look at history (hello Lancaster and York families) to see how brutal human relationships can become. But with good and open communication, they don’t necessarily have to be hard.
While it may be difficult to get through it, we’ve all experienced at some point how a particularly good fight can leave you feeling like your relationship is stronger and better because of it.
People often have the tendency to look at a couple and think that their relationship must be so strong and so perfect because they never fight, when in reality the opposite is true. It’s actually the couple that cares enough to fight, to battle their problems out, that has the stronger and happier relationship.
While it may be easier to walk away when the going gets tough, it’s a true sign of love if you’re willing to stay and fight through the pain and discomfort.