Updated: Apr 21
Here’s a controversy. Let us know how you feel about it. Here are my feelings.
A well-known commenter on relationships was recently asked in an interview, “Is it bad for couples to fight?”
And she answered, “Bad!?! A couple should fight every day!”
Now when you hear something like this, you should ask yourself what is this person saying and is it true?
You should fight every day, she’s saying, because it cleans out the sludge, because it wakes you up, shakes you up, because it livens things up, because it prevents hurts from festering. You know, like showering and pooping every day.
So, okay, then the other question is, Is this true? Well, for sure sludge cleaning and livening up and hurt-fester-preventing is unquestionably a good thing. Yay for that!
But, Ah!, does a fight a day keep the doctor away?
The very best fight in the world is a waste of time and energy. A lot of heat, from which you manage to congratulate yourselves for salvaging a little light.
Usually damage is done. The research overwhelmingly supports this. My 45 years of work with couples and families overwhelmingly supports this.
Plus, you can always have the light without the heat.
I mean, come on: what IS a fight? We all know. A fight is where you and I say what we need but in a very loud, intense, emotional way mainly designed to demonstrate how important it is that we get this need met. Plus put-downs and threats designed to scare the other person into giving us what we want. Right?
A fight is a stressful experience that’s usually damaging to the relationship. We try to get our needs met by using verbal violence to show how important our needs are and to scare the other person into meeting our needs. And the other person is doing the exact same thing to us, so that the yelling and threatening escalate into a higher pitch.
In the movies this immediately results in both people saying they’re sorry, realizing how turned on they are, and rushing off to sweat up the sheets.
Is that the way things go for you most of the time?
Nah, I didn’t think so. For most of us, who don’t live in sit coms and rom coms, after a fight we can’t wait to get away from the other person, and we usually stay away for hours or days. And there’s a chill for even longer.
And here’s how super-dumb this fight-a-day idea is. What makes couples say they’re happy together? It’s that their needs get met or that they can find ways to make their needs mesh. That they’re good at working things out.
What’s more, since a fight is two people saying what they need and conveying how important their need is, can’t they...uh...just fucking say that?
My husband and I have a dumbass little tool that’s saved us a zillion fights. Here’s how it works. Let’s say a friend is coming in from out of town for four nights. My husband wants the friend to stay with us. I don’t.
Now I know you can imagine the doozy of a fight any couple could get into over this. Me screaming, “You don’t care about me at all, you heartless bastard.” His wall-pounding and yelling, “Then why do you even stay with me?”
Now as sludge cleansing and fun and all as that might seem, and how silly of us to pass it up, what we actually try to do instead is
say what we want
say what it means to us (so we know why the other wants it)
and then use the number tool
Here’s the number tool. We each say on a scale from 0 to 10 how important it is to us that the friend stay/not stay with us.
If we used the number tool, I’d be saying it’s a 9 that he not stay here. I’m just not in a place where I need guests. He’d say it’s a 6, because “it’d be nice to have ol’ Joe here.” Well, duh: 9 trumps 6.
And I’m here to tell you, COUNTLESS couples who are at, say 9 and 6 or something like that, have furious fights that would lead anyone to believe they were both at 10. So, so often the intensity of the fight isn’t about both people’s desire. It’s about one or both people not feeling heard or hating to be said no to. But you know, a 6 never hates to be said no to by a 9.
And as for cleaning out sludge and preventing hurts from festering, you no more need fights to do that than you need a punch in the mouth to floss your teeth.
What may be at issue is getting your partner’s attention so you can have the conversation you need to have. Let’s talk about that next time?
For EVERYTHING you need to know about this, check out our hugely important book Why Couples Fight. It’ll give you everything you need to keep you from driving your relationship into the ditch.
Please comment here on what you think of this. Agree? Disagree? Why?
Note: except for the cover pic, the pix here are of celebrity couples caught fighting in public. I'm not proud of this! Who these celebrities are I'll leave to you to figure out. FYI: if you Google "celebrity couples fighting" you'll get A LOT of images of celebrity couple not fighting at all. Maybe bored, maybe having an intense conversation, maybe just not hap-hap-happy. The bar is REALLY high if you're a celebrity couple for you to be seen as not fighting!