Do you and your partner go at it like proverbial cats and dogs? Disagreements need not spell a relationship’s end, but an unhealthy fighting style might.
What are the different relationship fighting styles? More critically, how can you make yours healthier? The eight tips below can help.
The Three Basic Fighting Styles
Experts disagree on whether there are four or five relationship fighting styles in all, but the final one or two falls on the toxic side of the spectrum. In such unions, emotional and even physical abuse becomes likely.
However, most couples fall into one of the healthier categories below. The magic lies in the 5:1 ratio — for every negative interaction, you have five positive ones to restore tranquility.
If you and your partner share this style, you took to heart the adage, “you can be right or married — not both.” Instead of emphasizing your differences, you minimize them with humor and teamwork.
If you and your partner share a relationship style, you might settle a disagreement with a pillow fight. Is the pasta done al dente or not? You’ll challenge each other to a wall-sticking contest, even if one of you still prefers firmer noodles.
At first glance, you might think couples with this fighting style are members of a debate team instead of romantic partners. If you and your SO fall into this category, you’re both intensely emotional and independent.
What separates this romantic style from the less healthy ones is that the respect remains even when things grow heated. You realize that behaviors like name-calling can have adverse mental health consequences, and you value cherishing your loved one more than you do winning the point at a cost.
If you have this relationship style, others might envy you as having the prototypical “perfect” marriage. While you disagree as much as others, you exercise emotional intelligence in arguments and use negotiation and compromise to settle differences.
Your “fights” might not resemble what most people think of as arguments at all. Instead, they look like two friendly nations ironing out a peace treaty.
The final argumentative patterns fall into the “hostile” category. Such relationship fighting styles often involve insults, put-downs, silent treatments and other maladaptive behaviors. Couples who recognize this dynamic should seek counseling if they intend to remain together.
Tips for Changing Your Fighting Style
If your relationship fighting style isn’t as healthy as you’d like, take heart. You do have the power to change, although it takes dedication and hard work.
1. Seek Couples Counseling
Couples counseling can help you recognize hostile fighting styles and modify how you interact. Your therapist may assign exercises such as having you listen to the other without interrupting and exercising empathy. Going together shows that you both share an equal commitment to improving your relationship.
2. Go Solo
If your partner won’t agree to counseling, going by yourself can still improve your union. It can also help you decide whether or not it’s time to end the relationship.
Therapy helps you identify factors such as defense mechanisms that hinder communication. Imagine you arrive home late, and your partner says, “where were you?” Imagine the outcomes if you react with “I’m sorry for worrying you” instead of “what are you, my parent?”
3. Take Time Apart
Distance might not make the heart grow fonder, but it can diffuse volatile situations. If you seethe with resentment at your partner, try taking some alone time.
While you’re apart, you can reflect privately on the best way to proceed. Mindfulness allows time for answers to flow up from within, but you can’t hear that still, small voice above the shouting.
4. Say “I Love You” Before Bed
Did you ever hear that you shouldn’t go to bed angry? The advice holds.
Try your best not to go to bed seething or, worse, storm off in a huff. You never know when the unexpected may occur, and you don’t need the guilt of knowing you spoke the final words to someone you love in anger.
5. Write It Out
Journaling is a fabulous technique for solidifying your thoughts and creating boundaries. You might not realize that your partner hit one of your triggers in an argument until you reflect.
You might discover that you snap when your partner shows you how to do things differently because your parents micromanaged and criticized everything you did. Once you solidify the issue on paper, you can confess your sensitivity and draft ground rules for future disagreements.
6. Use “I” Statements
Blaming your partner rarely results in a positive outcome. Even if they were at fault, you still need to find a way to move forward together.
Learn to use “I” statements. Instead of saying, “you’re never there when I need you,” you could say, “when you skipped my holiday office party to bowl with your buddies, I felt abandoned and as if my career is unimportant.”
7. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is an acquired skill. That means you can get better at it, which is positive news for your relationship.
Instead of mentally formulating your response when your partner speaks, try to paraphrase what they’re saying. Use reflective statements such as, “I’m hearing that you feel more like hired help than a partner when I leave my dirty dishes in the sink for days.”
8. Imagine Your Boss Can Hear
When you and your partner disagree, it’s natural to fall into the “what happens behind closed doors doesn’t matter” trap. It does — after all, your partner is the one whose opinion should matter most to you.
Try imagining a third-party outsider hearing your disagreement. If you wouldn’t call your partner names in front of your boss, don’t do it in private.
Make Your Relationship Fighting Style Healthier With the Above Tips
Now that you understand the primary relationship fighting styles, you have the knowledge you need to improve your union. Use the eight tips above to fight fair and strengthen your bond.