How can fighting be good for anything? Steven Lake explores how this works in relationship.
I hate fighting. I hate conflict. I hate emotional upset. I hate it when my partner is upset. I hate all the bad feelings that come up for me when arguing. I hate saying things I later regret. I hate hearing hurtful things my partner says. I hate using the word hate so much.
Yes, I am conflict avoidant. Many people are, but not everyone. Some people actually like fighting. If you like fighting, you might want to stop reading, unless you want to peer into the experience of people who have a tough time in high conflict situations.
The pre-eminent researchers on couples, John and Julie Gottman, say that how often one fights is not a determinant in the success of a marriage, but rather, it is how one fights. Respect is the defining variable. As long as couples respect each other, fighting in and of itself is not a threat to the relationship.
If you are afraid of conflict and strong negative emotions, here are seven reasons why it is important to be able to successfully engage your partner and manage strife.
Healthy fighting and successful resolution leads to these 7 benefits:
1. It strengthens the relationship by increasing trust.
Constructive fighting that occurs within boundaries, or rules, that allow for emotional expression while avoiding abuse, strengthens a relationship. Weathering the storm allows a couple to see the clearing skies, and with calm waters approaching, a deeper understanding is glimpsed on the horizon.
Coming through the other side of an argument strengthens feelings of trust in the process. Knowing that I can survive makes fighting less threatening. Because it is less threatening I tend to avoid delaying a confrontation and present my concerns earlier to my partner when they are less likely to cause an explosive reaction.
Sometimes arguments erupt like an unforeseen squall on the ocean, blind-siding both partners. Surviving these surprises increases resiliency to confrontational situations.
2. You will feel better.
Letting off steam and expressing your feelings releases tension, anxiety and fear. When this happens I feel “unburdened,” lighter,” “like a weight is off my shoulders.” Not only does this feel better, it is a healthier state when anxiety and stress, with accompanying harmful hormones, are dissipated (this does not mean venting or dumping toxic shit on your partner).
Keeping emotions bottled up all the time leads to rigidity of the mind, body and soul. This is not an academic position. In one of my earlier relationships, I was so unable to deal with my partner’s emotional expression that I got an ulcer.
3. Your partner will know your thoughts, feelings and opinions.
When you are able to fully express yourself, your partner will understand the depth of your feelings about the subject. If you say, in a quiet and unobtrusive manner, “I don’t like it when you do X,” if your partner hears you, they will think you are mildly irritated about some little thing. If you are able to put some volume and intensity in the communication, they will get that this is important to you.
Fighting has a tendency to bring out our worst tendencies. But it can also bring out our best attributes once we work through the tough stuff. In this process, we get to know the good, the bad and the ugly of ourselves and our partners, and still love them.
4. Intimacy increases.
Fighting tells us what is important for our partner, what they don’t like, what they want, where their boundaries are, how flexible they are, what hurts them, and what they need to feel better. Discovering these aspects breeds a deeper intimacy and appreciation of the other.
Fighting can be a growth process in which your self-understanding, and understanding of your partner increases.
Also, post-fight make-up sex cements intimacy. And to think most of us believe fighting is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs.
5. Your partner is a separate individual.
After we become comfortable in a relationship, it is easy to think our partner knows our mood, our needs and our wants. Some people even think they can, or should, be able to read our minds. Fortunately, fighting dashes these delusions in an instant.
When faced with someone who is clearly upset, and telling us in no uncertain terms that they do not agree with our point of view, belief, or behavior – it becomes blatantly obvious that they are their own person. Sometimes it is hard to recognize them at all as new sides of their personality emerge. It can be a scary sight.
The monster we see is often a projection on our part, and sometimes are partner is acting terribly. Once this storm has passed a deeper discussion of what happened can be explored.
6. Improves your character.
You increase your patience, care, and love by focusing on what is important – that you care for this person and want them to be happy (without losing sight of your own needs).
Fighting is like forging steel. In the beginning, there is no strength or flexibility in the unrefined product. As it is repeatedly heated, folded and re-formed – like the samurai swords of old – a beautiful piece of art is forged that can withstand the shocks and strains of heavy engagement without breaking.
7. It is human – you can stop trying to be perfect.
Fighting demonstrates that you are human and not some perfect angelic being, or that you have the perfect relationship, or that you are above it all. It shows that sometimes you are in a bad mood, are stressed out, or just plain tired.
It shows where in your psyche lay unresolved issues, whether they be for control, stemming from insecurity, power, from feeling helpless, or self-esteem, from not being acknowledged or respected. Whatever your issues, you are guaranteed that they will come up in an intimate relationship – that’s just how it works.
I hope I have demonstrated that fighting is a useful function for healthy relationships. When done skillfully, an opportunity for a greater understanding and love for your partner is possible. Talking about it is easy. Doing is difficult.
The “how” of successful arguing will be the subject of a future article. Until then, courage mon ami!
Photo: Flickr/Raul Lleberwirth/First Kiss