Couples who fight together – stay together


One of Hollywood’s biggest romances is between Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell – a couple still going strong after 35 years. Do they fight? All the time, Hawn said recently. “You have to learn how to work your way through an argument and be skillful about it and resolve it.” She said, “Things happen during a marriage or a union, things are said that shouldn’t have been said, or things done that shouldn’t have been done, or you feel neglected.” Work your way through an argument?

Be skillful about fighting?

To some this may sound very unromantic. But so much of our idea of romance is tied in with social media pictures of happy couples holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other. Where are the pics of him shouting and her slamming a door? It seems we would rather not see these examples of a fighting couple. But maybe we should. Conflict is part of a normal, loving, relationship – as Goldie Hawn points out. How you handle the conflict in your relationship will determine how strong your partnership is. Couples guru John Gottman says 69% of marriage problems are unsolvable. That’s a lot! The reality is that no matter how perfect you think a relationship is – there is and will always be sources of conflict. Some of these may be part of your partner’s personality – he is social, you like to stay in - or she is tidy and you have better things to do than organize cupboards. It may be lifestyle choices or things that happened in your partner’s past that influences them today. Are you more conflict avoidant or confrontational? Knowing this will help you manage conflict better with your partner.

According to Dr Gottman, the five things most couples fight about are:

  • Free time

  • Money

  • Housework

  • Physical intimacy

  • Extended family

Knowing that conflict is destined to be a part of your relationship - would you not want to be better at it? Some might say that they’d rather not fight at all. The good news is – it does not have to be a fight. It could be a conversation about what is bothering you. Don’t think it will go away because it won’t. Instead, if not addressed, some issues have the tendency to fester and emotions around it (like his constantly playing video games) could become stronger because they are not expressed, eventually reaching boiling point - when a huge fight can occur.

Unresolved conflict based on personality or lifestyle differences can keep coming back and may leave you feeling frustrated, angry, lonely or sad. Sometimes a fight happens when all you really wanted – or needed – was to be recognized for your feelings. In these instances, talking about issues is not about trying to change each other but acknowledging that people are – and can be – different and being honest about how this impacts on the relationship.

In reality, it is all about the HOW. How you discuss your differences will result either in a damaging conflict or a constructive conversation that ends up strengthening your bond. Let’s look at a typical argument:

You: You never clean up after yourself! Look at this place, who has to clean this up! Me?!

Nothing good can come from a statement like this. It may be true, you are tired after working all day and now you have come home to a messy kitchen and the last thing you feel like is cleaning up. But by letting your emotions take over, you are beginning an argument – instead of addressing the problem and finding a potential solution.

A different way of responding would have been to go to your room, take a few deep breaths and think about what you want to say. Do you want to fight or fix the problem?

Relationship experts have a few tips on how to handle a potentially explosive conversation with your partner. These include:

  • Don’t use words like “always” and “never”

  • Don’t be confrontational

  • Don’t go in with accusations and assigning blame

  • Rather say how you feel or what you would like

  • Tone your argument down, use a soft approach

  • Don’t be contemptuous – talk like your partner is a friend not an enemy

  • Don't get defensive

  • Assume responsibility

A better response might have been:

You: I had a really long day. I wanted to start dinner, but the kitchen is a mess. Do you think you could order some food delivery instead?

Turning conflict into conversation

Try to see the situation from your partner’s point of view – maybe your partner was going to clean the kitchen but got distracted. Life happens. But seeing him sprawled in front of the TV pushed your buttons about him being lazy and you doing all the house work. Issues like these can become perpetual problems, linked to other issues that were not addressed previously.

If you find that you are always fighting – or that the simplest conversation turns into an argument, you may want to consider changing the way you talk to your partner. Words can be loaded and often have unintended consequences. For example, consider the difference between positive and negative phrasing:

Yes

I think it is my turn to pick a movie

No

We always watch the movie you want

Yes I wish we could talk about how we spend money

No

You are wasting all our money on crap

Yes

Do you think we could talk about where to go

No

You always want to go to your family on holiday this year

Yes

I’m sorry, this topic is upsetting

No Calm down

The not-such-a-secret to a happy relationship?

Learning how to deal with conflict. A compromise may not always sit comfortably with you – you may feel like you “gave in”. But if you really want to make a relationship work, there will have to be compromises, usually on both sides.

Aim for constructive, caring conversations where you take your partner into consideration, trying to see their point while getting across your own view. These kinds of fights bring couples closer and deepen the connection, allowing you to examine your relationship and each other. Listen to what your partner says – no matter how hard or difficult it may be to hear. Is there some truth in what he/she says? Commit to the process. Listen to one another. Because this is when you begin to fight together, to stay together.

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