How To Fight Your Way Into A Healthier Relationship
Fighting can be a good thing.
As Shakespeare once said, “You’re up then you’re down. You’re wrong when it’s right. It’s black and it’s white. We fight, we break up. We kiss, we make up.” Okay, I lied, it was actually Katy Perry, but the poetic value remains: couples fight. The lovers' tiff is as permanent and pervasive as love itself, but it's not necessarily always a bad thing. It can be good for you – really good for you – depending on how you do it.
Dr John M. Gottman, of the Gottman Institute, believes that fighting isn’t an indication of a bad relationship, but a good one, and that there are good and bad ways to go about it. Our bodies have an inbuilt stress-triggered alarm called Diffuse Physiological Arousal (DPA). It’s the response that makes your hands sweat and your heart race, and leads you to that crossroad of “fight or flight.” And DPA doesn’t just happen when we see a grizzly animal in the forest or when we actually have to speak to someone on the phone, it can be brought on by a row with bae.
Once that lump forms, your eyes water, and your heart is beating so loud and fast it feels like a frantic bird against a glass door, it’s almost impossible to communicate effectively. It’s because your heart has elevated to 100 BPM or higher, which, in a relationship setting, can make any attempt at conversation pretty erratic. Makes sense. Have you ever tried to have a civilized conversation after intense exercise? All you can think about is catching your breath and eating a cheeseburger – not a long chit chat.
Timing is everything
Brittle suggests that after DPA has occurred, couples need to wait between 20 minutes and 24 hours before they can resolve the conflict. So either watch one episode of Black Mirror or the entire four seasons before you try to resolve. And do not stew – stews are made for eating. Don’t treat your fight like a bad episode of Friends that you can't help but replay. It’s not helpful; you’ll just end up more stressed and upset.
Breathe in and out
Take out your bottom-drawer yoga pants, burn that incense you got from secret Santa and find your zen. Go for a walk, listen to Adele, whatever it takes to be cool. Once your face returns to its normal shade and you no longer want to hurl a rock at your partner it’s safe to reemerge and rationally discuss how you’re feeling. Let’s work through an example together:
Your bae makes you dinner. Cute right? WRONG. Instead of using the gluten-free pasta, he uses the regular pasta. And even though you don’t technically have a gluten allergy, you read an article on Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog once about the benefits of avoiding wheat. You mentioned this article four months ago. And you obviously get bloated when you eat wheat. How does he not get this?!
You loudly declare that bae doesn’t “get you” and you take the bowl of pasta and throw it against the wall, leaving a saucy meatball murder scene.
You begin to roll around in the sauce, demanding your Gwyneth-approved GF pasta. You bring up a completely irrelevant argument about a fight you had about his mother two months ago, and the time he forgot your anniversary, and somehow attempt to connect these events to the current one.
Alternatively, you go to the next room and play a 20-minute mindfulness meditation mix. You realign your chakras. You realize that throwing pasta is something you graduate from at the age of two. You clean up the pasta, apologize and explain the anger came from the feeling of not being listened to. You have some passionate make up sex and order takeout.
You don’t need a psychology degree to know Resolution 2 is your one-way ticket to Happily-Ever-Afterville. Fighting is inevitable and good fighting is the golden way. It shows a desire to work through something together and communicate, and it helps to further develop your bond. The way you fight will determine, for the most part anyway, whether your relationship is rocky or floating like a lilo on a calm, tropical sea.
The moral of the story: fight fair and never, ever, throw pasta.
Next up, here's how to stop fighting about sex.