All couples fight. No two people are ever going to meld their lives and not have moments of disagreement, misunderstandings, and everything else that leads to hurt feelings, defensiveness, and frustration. So how do you know when the fights between you and your significant other are normal and when they are a sign you should either seek counseling or break up?
When I was 23 years old I met a guy with whom I had a lot in common, we began dating, and then we moved in together. But during our 3 years together, we fought often, and loudly. Looking back, I’m shocked our neighbors never called the police.
We fought about stupid things (“I can’t believe you think Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was the best one!”) and important things (“It’s not okay for you to put your arms around your co-worker!”). We fought arrogantly, with little empathy or humor to cushion the verbal blows, and would get so frustrated with each other that sometimes he’d start punching a pillow and I would lock myself in the bathroom. After one particularly brutal argument, I lost my voice from screaming at him for hours. That was when it hit me: we were all wrong for each other and this much fighting was unhealthy. It was time to end it. I told him, “If we stay together we could quite possibly kill each other one day.”
But you know what I said to myself during those 3 years that kept me from getting it earlier? “All couples fight.”
Yes, they do. But what they fight about, how frequently they fight, and whether or not the arguments get resolved or repeat are the clues to help you determine if your fighting is a Big Fat Red Flag.
BFRF #1: Do you argue about important things like values, beliefs, life goals, and kids? Do you differ greatly when it comes to personality, energy levels, senses of humor? There are some things that are non-negotiable, parts of yourself that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice to keep the peace. If you find you can’t respect their views or they belittle your accomplishments and dreams, it’s a good sign you two don’t belong together. Major incompatibilities are often a source of conflict and sweeping them under the rug doesn’t do either of you any favors. But if you fight about little things, like your opinion on modern art or whether Chicago deep dish pizza is better than New York thin crust, that’s a sign of immaturity and that can be worked on with some patience and humility.
BFRF #2: Do you have more bad days together than good? Or are your fights so heart-wrenching that they weigh on your mind for weeks without resolution and outweigh any good days you have together? If you’ve tried making changes for the better but still feel like it’s a constant battle to feel loved and connected, it’s probably time to call it quits. Too many people try hard for so long to “make it work”, but really they’re just wrong for each other. Instead of trying to force a relationship to “work”, you could be with someone who’s right for you and with whom it’s not as much work to get along.
BFRF #3: Do either of you call each other names, viciously argue with contempt, physically hurt the other, and otherwise behave abusively? Time to end it. Don’t waste any time hoping things will change, just get out now. Seek therapy while being single, no matter if you were the abused or the abuser.
Healthy arguments involve empathy, listening, a desire to resolve differences, no physical or verbal abuse, and no stonewalling (shutting down emotionally, being emotionally unavailable). Sometimes, even humor to lighten the mood. Laughing together can often be the antidote!