How often do you fight with your partner? Some people are proud of never battling with their boos, but Jim McNulty, a psychology professor at Florida State University, says that’s a “serious mistake.” He’s studied close relationships and newlyweds and says, “When people avoid fighting, they avoid talking.”
It turns out, fighting can actually be good for a relationship, if you do it right. “When people have different perspectives -- and we all do -- it's important to voice them," McNulty explains, "but they have to do so in a clear way that is as constructive as possible." That old saying “all’s fair in love and war” doesn’t apply to disagreements with a loved one, but here’s what the experts say about the healthy way to fight.
- Why fight at all? - If arguing is so hard, why do it at all? Because avoiding conflict doesn’t work. Therapist Caitlin Cantor explains that if you can fight and learn how to get connected in your differences and learn more from each other through the fight, “then that’s really healthy.”
- Be honest and open - When you’re upset or angry, it’s easy to attack, but that’s not going to help resolve anything. McNulty points out that beating around the bush, implying things, insinuating things and being sarcastic doesn’t work either, but his research has shown that one of the things people benefit from most is being direct.
- Pick a good time to fight - Love spats that happen in the spur-of-the-moment tend to be when people say things they’ll regret later, so McNulty suggests avoiding those conflicts by planning to fight later. While it’s hard to bite your tongue when you feel triggered, hitting pause on what you want to say and scheduling a time to talk about your feelings when you’re not as stressed can help you do it more constructively.
- Be a good listener - That means being able to regulate your emotions, even when you hear something you don’t like, and being able to focus on your partner’s words without getting upset or angry.
- Avoid saying “you’ or “never” or “always” - Try not to say things that put your partner on the defensive in a disagreement, like “You make me feel …” You’re not owning your feelings when you say that and you’re better off saying “I feel like this when you …” because it’s much less triggering.
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