Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Paradox of Couples Fighting: Doing It Right's A Good Thing

I am writing today in response to a blogger's request. The blogger wrote that she gets annoyed with couples who never fight and act like they have a perfect relationship. She asked if I could address the issue of fighting in relationships.

The question: Should couples fight? Is fighting actually a sign of strength or weakness in a couple? If we gave a prize to the best, healthiest couple, would that couple occasionally fight or would they never need to fight because they get along so well?

It's a myth to think a couple should never fight. If a couple never, ever fights, I would question how in touch each member of the couple is with their feelings. We get frustrated every day by insignificant things and by people we don't really know. It's normal to expect that the people we spend the most time with will occasionally bother us or do things that upset us.

The issue is how each member of the couple handles their negative feelings. Many people believe that their number one goal should be to keep the peace. There is often a long-running, unconscious fear flying around in each of our heads that tells us that expressing negative feelings to the ones we love will push them away. The goal in relationships should be to let yourself be honest about how you feel and to express your negative feelings in a way that doesn't attack or isolate your partner.

There is a difference between fighting and arguing, and fighting fairly and fighting dirty. Some people don't like the word 'fighting.' They think even the word is ugly and connotative of an emotional blood bath. Regardless of whether you call it fighting or arguing, the point remains the same: It's healthy to acknowledge occasional frustration and anger with your partner.

Couples who pride themselves in never fighting or arguing have a tremendous need to keep the peace and to idealize their relationship. My guess is that couples who pride themselves in never fighting actually present a defense mechanism at work. They are afraid to acknowledge frustration or anger for fear that it could jeopardize or end the relationship. These people additionally often carry a script in their mind that says that good couples always get along and never fight.

These couples must understand that their beliefs and need to never fight is more reflective of their internal script rather than what is normal or healthy in a relationship.

If you are in a relationship, make your goal to get along as often as possible. When situations arise that trigger negative emotions, express them. In the case that the conversation turns into an argument, make sure that you fight fairly.


fyek said...

Dr. Seth, this is such a great post. My partner and I have found after 8 years together that we usually feel closer after we have open and honest discussions, even when they start out as fights. Keeping negative feelings inside leads to resentment and passive aggressive behavior. Addressing the root cause of these feelings leads to a closer bond. The more comfortable a couple is with conflict, the more trusting their bond becomes over time.

Amanda said...

Yeah! Thank goodness that someone is refuting the myth that healthy couples don't argue. If we can accept the inevitability of conflict in relationships, then it is okay to deviate from that mythology. I think that people should focus on how they manage their emotions rather than supressing a feeling because it makes them uncomfortable.