How much fighting is too much? 5 questions to figure out what’s healthy.
Let’s be clear: all couples fight.
I’m a relationship therapist who has been coaching people on building extraordinary relationships since 2009, and I still argue with my husband Xander!
It’s never fun, but the reality is that some amount of conflict is a normal part of being in a healthy relationship.
But if you’ve been noticing that you’re starting to fight a lot more frequently with your partner, or the fights seem like they’re getting worse, it’s natural to wonder, “Are we fighting too much? What does this say about our relationship?”
And if things start getting really rough, you may even find yourself wondering, “Is this relationship going to survive?”
Here’s the straight answer based on my work with thousands of couples:
It’s not so much about the quantity of your fights, it’s about the quality.
Just like there’s no perfect amount of sex that every couple should be having, there’s no magical number of fights that are “acceptable” or “unacceptable.”
Instead, you want to look at the quality of your arguments.
If you want to figure out if you level of fighting is healthy or not, here are five important questions to ask yourself:
1. Do you feel respected?
Respect is one of the most important qualities in a healthy relationship, and it’s vital during conflict. You and your partner need to be respectful of each other when you’re speaking, and when you’re listening.
Fights can occasionally get a little heated, but you need to watch out for these major red flags:
- If you or your partner frequently blames or criticizes the other.
- If you or your partner resorts to name-calling.
- If you or your partner yells or gets aggressive.
- If fights ever become physical, or leave either one of you feeling unsafe.
Otherwise, you want to make sure that your partner is willing to listen to you. They need to be able to accept your experience, even if it’s wildly different from their own.
Because trust me, you are going to have tons of arguments where you wonder, “Was my partner actually there in that moment with me, because that’s definitely not what I remember happening…” It’s one of the craziest things about being in a relationship!
2. Are you fighting for the relationship or against it?
Fights can be constructive or destructive. A good way to tell which is which is if it feels like you’re fighting for the relationship or against it.
An example of fighting for the relationship might be arguing over the best way to manage your finances. You may have differing opinions, but you’re working towards a healthy solution for both of you. It may feel uncomfortable or scary, especially if you have different approaches to money, but you’re working towards a shared goal.
An example of fighting against might be your partner trying to convince you that their way of disciplining your kids is the “right” way. They’re more invested in being “right” than they are in being a team in raising your children.
Try asking yourself, “What are we trying to accomplish with this argument?” You want to make sure you have a positive answer.
3. Do your fights get in the way of the good times?
Sometimes arguments can be so frequent and intense that they start to damage your day-to-day interactions. They squeeze out the space for connection, intimacy, and fun!
It may feel like your relationship is starting to run on fumes. You may find yourself wondering, “Do I even like this person anymore?”
You need to make sure you have healthy ways of dealing with conflict in your relationship, so that you build up a store of good will with each other.
4. Do you know your patterns?
Do you know what you and your partner each need when it comes to arguments?
For example, I’ve learned that I’m a much better communicator when Xander and I are out on a walk. There’s something about being able to move my body that makes me feel more open and less stuck. And I’ve learned that Xander needs to hear me say that I love him and that things are going to be OK.
I highly recommend talking about your communication patterns when you’re not arguing about something. You just have too much going on in the middle of a fight to also talk about how to have the fight productively!
Xander and I have had lots of discussions about our communication, and one of the many things we’ve learned is that Xander takes a while to figure out what he’s feeling whereas I tend to have a more immediate grasp of what I’m feeling. He has to talk things through before he understands his feelings, so I have to kinda disregard the first few things that come out of his mouth! This is a challenge for me because I’m a very literal person, and I take what people say at face value. Over time, we’ve identified these patterns and learned how our patterns interact with each other, so we can keep making a better game plan for how to deal with the next argument more effectively.
5. Are things improving?
Conflict is always going to be a part of your relationship, but you want to get a sense that you’re learning and growing.
You don’t want to feel like you’re having the same fight over and over again; you want to feel like you’re pulling the argument apart over time, piece by piece.
If you don’t feel like you’re gradually making improvements, conflict can feel absolutely soul-sucking.
But the good news is that there are tools to help you resolve recurring fights and repair the damage they cause.
I know that it can be hard to allow yourself to think through these questions and actually start to make meaningful changes to how you communicate and handle conflict. But I’ve been working with couples on this kind of stuff for years, and you’d be surprised at how fixable most of these issues are.
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