It’s funny. For the most part, we know that there’s a good way and a bad way to fight. We know not to bring up the past, to focus on compromise, to listen to the other’s person’s side of the story, and to not hit “below the belt.” That kind of goes down the drain when we’re upset though, doesn’t it? Who is going to remember the word “compromise” when all you want to do is stick a cork in the other person’s mouth?
I’ve seen (and let’s face it, made impractical use of) a lot of weird fighting tactics. Here are my favorites:
1) Cold Shoulderitis: This is when one or both parties suddenly comes down with an inexplicable case of laryngitis. My most memorable experience of this was when two of my friends (who were dating at the time) decided to stop talking to each other because of some stupidity that I can’t recall. Imagine the awkward fun of sitting in between them (at their insistence), and carrying on an individual conversation with each of them.
2) Octane Overload: The “I’m-just-going-to-scream-one-octane-louder-than-you-and-continue-to-go-higher-if-you-do” tactic. The fight usually ends when crystal glasses shatter – along with eardrums and whatever body part controls your voice.
3) Whatever Rebuttal: This occurs when every argument one party offers is countered with a dismissive “Whatever.” Can be a useful tactic when the goal is to annoy the other person, or if you’re arguing with a 4 to 14-year-old.
4) Talk to my back: I love this one. The fight ends even before it finishes. But the fight never really finishes when you walk away prematurely, does it? It’s like the original Mario Brothers game, where in order to get the ghosts to stop following you, you have to turn and face them. Otherwise, as soon as you turn your back, they’ll pursue you. Who said video games don’t teach important lessons?
5) Insult Emporium: Probably the most damaging tactic, this involves insulting the other person about everything you can think of, including their stupid kitchen sink. You get useless bonus points if you can get the other person to cry or walk away.
Conflict, arguing, and fighting are words so intertwined with negativity that they can’t be weaved apart. See a couple fighting in public and people will stare. Hear neighbors arguing through an open window and the surrounding houses suddenly get suspiciously quiet as everyone listens in. But everyone does it – so why is it a problem?
Research we conducted using our Arguing Style Test indicated that 65% of people we studied agree that arguing can be healthy in a relationship (at least to some degree). There is one caveat: How a couple fights – each person’s “arguing style,” that is – can mean the difference between healthy conflict resolution and an all-out, spiteful war of words.
Analyzing data from more than 27,000 people, our stats show that people who have had a fight that directly led to the demise of a romantic relationship were more likely to use negative fighting tactics or to fight “dirty” (score of 59 vs. 49 for those who have not had a relationship-ending conflict – on a scale from 0 to 100). They also had a more negative attitude toward conflict itself, indicating that they are more likely to believe that nothing can be gained or learned from fighting with their partner.
Our study also revealed that of those who have had arguments that lead to break-ups:
- 31% refuse to be the first one to apologize after a fight (compared to 24% for those who have not had a relationship-ending fight).
- 33% point out their partner’s faults/character flaws (compared to 20% of those without history of “terminal” fights).
- 38% will purposely “hit below the belt” and make criticisms that they know will hurt their partner (compared to 24% of non-terminal fighters).
- 42% swear/cuss when they fight with their partner (compared to 27% of non-terminal fighters).
- 45% allow old grudges to resurface when arguing (compared to 33% of non-terminal fighters).
- 47% make up right away after a fight (compared to 57% of non-terminal fighters).
- 47% will accept their partner’s feelings and opinions, even if they don’t agree with them (compared to 56% of non-terminal fighters).
- 51% said that when they fight, they want to be the one who wins, no matter what (compared to 44% of non-terminal fighters).
- 60% will bring up ALL the issues that are bothering them at once, rather than focusing on the issue at hand (compared to 47% of non-terminal fighters).
- 62% tend to raise their voice when upset (compared to 50% of non-terminal fighters).
- 66% will admit when they are wrong (compared to 72% of non-terminal fighters).
I know. It’s not fun to argue. I don’t want to sound too Dr. Phil-ish, but arguing can be a way for a couple to grow and better understand each other – and there are ways to fight constructively. It’s not a matter of determining who is right and who is wrong, but rather, clarifying why the issue you are fighting over is important, and how you both stand to benefit by resolving it. And here’s the best part: the belief that happy couples do not or should not fight is a load of lies and really unhealthy. People who are satisfied with their relationship still have their disagreements, but they talk things out, listen to each other’s side of the story, find common ground, focus on finding a mutually-beneficial solution, and speak with tact. And if things get too heated, they take a break, and wait until they’ve calmed down before taking up the discussion again.
Any long-term relationship will involve conflict, no matter how much people love each other. You will fight – accept it. Contrary to the myth of conflict-free marriages, constructive arguments are healthy, as they clear up the air, resolve the inevitable disagreements, and as a bonus, often times help to reignite the passion in a stale relationship (that’s a nice way of saying make-up sex). The trick, however, is to learn how to argue effectively and to fight fair.