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How Often Do Couples Fight in a Healthy Relationship?

Bonnie Irey, Seattle Therapist

Jan 21, 2022

All couples fight and have conflict. The more you learn about each other, the higher the chances you’ll discover differences, which can lead to disagreements. Even though it’s normal for all couples to quarrel, it’s important to pay attention to the frequency and intensity of your arguments and notice when and if you are using compassionate or destructive language and behaviors. Healthy arguments and productive conversations about each other’s differences can actually strengthen your relationship. Partners willing to endure the vulnerability and even discomfort of expressing their opposing views exhibit positive values of respectfulness, fairness, and understanding. Not fighting should be more cause for concern and can be due to a checked-out partner.

Fighting and arguing is actually healthy in relationships

We can all remember the bliss of the honeymoon phase. We were partner-pleasing and agreeable as to appear desirable to be chosen. Then, comfort kicks in and the real thoughts and feelings come out. But, it doesn’t have to end in competition and hurt feelings. Engaging in a disagreement offers both you and your partner an opportunity to explore a conversation more deeply than surface-level small talk. Many couples note that constructive conversations help to build a strong trusting bond with their partners because it gives them a chance to share their independent views in a safe and vulnerable environment. Arguments can also improve your relationship by creating opportunities for positive change and assuring each other that you will put in the work. Settling disagreements with compassion and compromise can also accelerate intimacy and connection between partners. If both of you are willing to change, you’ll feel more committed to cultivating a healthy relationship.

What is a healthy relationship fight?

Maintaining mutual respect while fighting is key to a healthy relationship. A healthy fight is when each partner is respecting each other’s values and beliefs, even when they contrast. Respectful actions are listening without distractions, validating key impactful moments, and asking what you can do for your partner and what they need to move forward. Be realistic! Sometimes, we lose our calm or react before hearing the other partner out. In these instances, a healthy argument also means taking responsibility and accountability for your role in the fight and apologizing for any hurtful words or actions that may have occurred. You can halt contempt and bitterness by choosing to make right and actively sharing fondness and admiration for each other.

How often is okay for couples to fight?

It’s common to bicker occasionally, but how much fighting in a relationship is okay, and how much is too much? Your relationship’s frequency of arguments can be heavily determined by the differing qualities of you and your partner’s personalities and communication styles, and any other external factors that may be influential to your moods. If one or both partners are exhibiting any dominant personality traits like stubbornness or overly competitiveness, your relationship may benefit from open dialogue and readjustments so that each partner feels seen, heard, and connected. Don’t settle for “that’s just the way they are.” If you or your partner know that your communication styles are uncomfortable or harmful, and either is unwilling to listen and change, you may have more severe issues to discuss than the frequency of your arguments. Additional factors to take into consideration when monitoring your fighting frequency are any stressors that can be putting either of you on edge or irritated. Common couple arguments can include, work stress, home stress (especially if you have children), financial strains, upcoming deadlines or travel plans, or even climate concerns like the weather.

Is it normal for couples to fight every day?

Relationship experts vary when asked if it’s normal to fight every day. Some will advise fighting is never okay and others have even reported that couples can fight up to seven times per day! What most couples’ therapists do agree on is that if you feel that you are fighting with your partner frequently, you may need to reevaluate your communication styles and skills with your partner. Try not to make sweeping absolute goals of eliminating fighting altogether, you’ll set yourself and your partner up for failure. Be realistic with your expectations and capabilities. Take note of how much time you are spending arguing with each other. If you are spending every day fighting, you are missing out on daily opportunities for connection and belonging. Dr. John Gottman, a renowned couple’s psychologist and researcher, found that 69% of the time couples are arguing about unresolvable perpetual problems. This means that over half the things you are arguing do not have a resolve and are primarily based on fundamental differences like personality traits or lifestyle choices. You can frequently disagree with each other, but they don’t have to all lead to fights.

The difference between disagreeing and fighting

To put it plainly, healthy couples disagree, unhealthy couples fight. Action and intention are key pieces in determining which arena you and your partner are in. Couples faced with different perspectives and opinions hold the option of fighting or connecting by what they do when the differences are uncovered. A healthy couple will acknowledge the difference, ask questions, and allow space for each partner to express their thoughts and feelings for clarity and understanding. However, an unhealthy couple will mock, ridicule, or criticize the difference and compete for their perspectives to win or find ways to be right. Fighting is proving a point over and above your partner, disagreeing is knowing that you won’t always have the same ideals but you’re open to listening to what your partner is experiencing, and asking what they may need to feel understood. If you’re still unsure whether you’re fighting or disagreeing, notice your body language and tone of voice during an argument. Fighting couples exhibit crossed arms and will break eye contact by adverting their eyes or rolling them in superiority or disbelief. They stand taller or hover over to appear bigger, and use a louder than usual tone in voice, and will become combative if it’s addressed. Fighting involves bringing in the big guns and resulting in grudges and bitterness. Couples in healthy arguments have relaxed bodies, open arms, sit or stand at ease, and will adjust their tonality if requested by their partner.

How long do fights last in healthy relationships?

The length of time a healthy couple argues depends on multiple components. As mentioned above, personality and communication styles will play a vital role. Another major factor to consider is the content and severity of the outcomes. If you are fighting about infidelity, substances, or any other high stakes argument, these fights will typically last longer. However, if you are fighting about household chores, upcoming plans, or any other trivial spat, your fights should ideally last less than 10 minutes. If your low-stakes arguments are lasting longer than 10 minutes, you’ve most likely transferred into fighting. To prevent your fights from crossing this threshold, try taking intentional 5-30 minute breaks from each other to distract and cool down. You break should be more than 5 minutes and less than 24 hours so that the thoughts, feelings, and actions are still fresh and available to talk about once you’re in a more level headspace. Make sure to come back at the agreed upon time! Many couples report not coming back after they’ve cooled down because they don’t want to “rehash” or “spoil the good mood.” Unresolved fights will always come back. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly short make-up! Your resolve could be masquerading by a conflict-avoidant partner. Conflict avoidant couples may appear “fine,” but may later feel effects of resentment by not stating their case or giving into something they don’t feel comfortable doing or saying. Make sure that the ending of your fights have some sort of equal and agreeable repair or resolve. The quicker you can get to compromise and resolve, the quicker you can get back to love and enjoy being in your relationship.

How to communicate while disagreeing

Poor communication is the number one reason why most couples begin the journey of marriage and couple’s counseling. Most of the time, arguments are not really about the dirty dishes. They are about each partner’s ability to respect each other by seeing the other’s point, feel heard, understood, and collaborate on compromise and repair. One essential communication skill is to remember that neither of you are mind readers, no matter how long you’re known each other. If you feel like your partner should know better or change, use “I” statements and let them know what is specifically upsetting you and what you need instead of pointing blame or assuming. Any assumptions that you throw out about your partner are like grenades that can quickly escalate a disagreement to a fight. Try to eliminate using definite articles of “never” and “always” when discussing your concerns. Over-generalizations don’t leave room for nuance, and will have your partner feeling unappreciated for any times they did the thing you’re pointing out. It will also make them a lot less likely to do it again.

When should you seek counseling for fighting?

If your relationship has any feelings of resentment or bitterness, either of you feel stuck in a negative outlook about each other, unable to think about shared futures or unable to look back fondly on positive experiences and memories you’ve shared together, it could be beneficial to go to therapy. Many relationships can benefit from learning new and alternative communication skills through the therapeutic process, even if they are not currently experiencing relationship issues. When you find the right tools to fight fairly, you can end up learning more about your partner and feeling more connected, instead of left feeling misunderstood and disconnected. A couple’s therapist can give an equalized space to bring up the hot button issues, enforce calm and coping skills to eliminate further escalations, guide understanding of each partner’s different perspectives and give opportunities and options for repair and resolve. Additionally, if your fighting is affecting other members of the family, or they are being involved, it could also be beneficial to consult with a family therapist.

Your fights are disrespectful

If your fights contain any physical/mental/emotional abuse, throwing things, hurling insults or mocking one another, you are not respecting each other. Be intentional about respecting each other’s time, space, and feelings. Be mindful if these negative behaviors start to form a pattern – address them before they become a dealbreaker. Stop being judgmental and start being more sentimental! Leave name-calling on the playground! Take a pause before you say something you and your partner will regret. Ask for a break when you need it. If neither of you takes a break, you are not respecting yourselves or each other. Focus on yourself and your own thoughts and feelings during arguments instead of accusing your partner and causing unnecessary damage along the way. If you feel disconnected, it could be because your physical bodies are facing away from each other or holding up physical barriers. In most cases, if your partner’s body language is turning away from you, you’ve lost their attention and respect. Talk about what feels uncomfortable when it is happening and find ways to compromise to a safe and equal environment.

You have trouble listening to each other

Many couples report that a big red flag for them is a partner that cannot listen. Common reasons couples report not listening are because they feel criticized or blamed and want to defend themselves, or they are distracted by other activities like hobbies or work. Make sure they are ready for a discussion by asking for their time for a talk. One may feel that their partner just needs a question answered and may pause their activity briefly, but if you need more time, be sure to ask for it. You can help your partner feel heard by validating their experiences, reflecting back to them what they reveal to you, and asking deeper open-ended questions to have them divulge more for you to understand their position. Listen to understand, don’t wait to speak. If your partner is coming to you with a concern, take a moment to listen to their perspective before indulging in the urge to be defensive or push the blame.

Your arguments start leading toward resentment

Gottman suggests, and verified through his research, that contempt and resentment are the leading causes of breakup and divorce. When you feel resentment towards your partner, you are rooted in bitterness and believe you’ve been treated unfairly. Resentment builds by not addressing these concerns and feelings of discomfort with your mind’s culprit. If the other person in the fight is the enemy, negative thoughts and emotions run high and things may be said out of spite or frustration. If you become stuck in this negative perspective of your partner, the relationship will not be able to last without help and intentional change.

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