While conflict is a normal part of healthy relationships, fighting all the time is not. This is especially true if the arguments leave one or both partners feeling particularly vulnerable or stressed. Communicating needs, eliminating expectations of changing others and learning to negotiate through conflict should reduce the number and severity of the fights. However, if this outcome does not occur, it might be time to seek outside help from a counselor specializing in relationships.
The Positive Side of Fighting
Even for children exposed to it, conflict can be viewed as a necessarily element in the development of interpersonal problem solving and the development of coping strategies. It’s impossible to be in total agreement about everything, and it’s likely that if there isn’t an at least occasional disagreement, one of the partners is either avoiding conflict or giving in to the other.
Couples who learn active listening and expressive speaking skills are less likely to breakup or experience conflict than those who do not learn these skills. Active listening skills include making good eye contact, maintaining a relaxed posture and reflecting back to your partner what you believe is being expressed. Expressive speaking skills include clearly expressing wants, needs and preferences. All individuals want to feel that they are being heard and respected. While it isn’t unusual to assume that your partner should know how you feel or what you want, this isn't realistic. Feelings and needs are individual and often reflect culture, how you were raised and gender differences.
You're Perfect, Now Change Syndrome
It isn’t unusual for one person to blame the other and feel the relationship would be perfect if only the other person would change. Typically, the person being asked to change withdraws. The more this demand-withdrawal style of communication occurs, the greater dissatisfaction both partners experience, according to the 2007 paper "Demand–Withdraw Communication in Severely Distressed, Moderately Distressed, and Nondistressed Couples: Rigidity and Polarity During Relationship and Personal Problem Discussions," published in "Journal of Family Psychology." This same effect has been noted in parent-child relationships, where demanding tends to precede drug use, according to John P. Caughlin and Rachel S. Malis in the paper "Demand/Withdraw Communication Between Parents and Adolescents: Connections With Self-Esteem and Substance Use" in "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships." Clearly, nagging and begging someone else to change is non-productive. A better solution is to focus on solving the problem and not on changing another.
Constructive Problem Solving
Partners respond to problems in the relationship by one of four ways: by doing things to end the relationship, by constructively attempting to work through the problems, by remaining loyal but passively hoping things will change or by ignoring the problem and neglecting the other partner. Not surprisingly, how partners react during difficult times, rather than the way they behave when things are going well, determines whether a relationship is working. Satisfaction with the relationship often depends on how an individual feels a partner is addressing the problem, according to Caryl E. Rusbult, Dennis J. Johnson and Gregory D. Morrow of the University of Kentucky in the article "Impact of Couple Patterns of Problem Solving on Distress and Nondistress in Dating Relationships," published by "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology." Constructively trying to solve problems through negotiation and not reacting to negativism with retaliation is often the key to successful negotiation.
Knowing When to Seek Help
There are no quick fixes, and repairing a relationship in trouble takes time and effort on the part of both partners. If attempts to solve problems constructively fail, it's time to seek assistance from an objective counselor who has experience working with couples. Signs that things aren't working include an increase in the number and intensity of fights along with a pattern of partners engaging in destructive reactions to problems and feelings of failure. Relationships should enhance our lives, not make us feel inadequate or fearful.
- Psychological Bulletin: Marital Conflict and Children’s Adjustment -- A Cognitive-Contextual Framework
- Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology: Preventing Marital Distress Through Communication and Conflict Management Training
- Journal of Family Psychology: Demand–Withdraw Communication in Severely Distressed, Moderately Distressed and Nondistressed Couples
- Journal of Social and Personal Relationships Demand/withdraw Communication Between Parents and Adolescents
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Impact of Couple Patterns of Problem Solving on Distress and Nondistress in Dating Relationships
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