I was recently talking to a friend about an argument she got into with her boyfriend. It basically boiled down to her boyfriend saying that she fights dirty, and unless it changes, he’s ending the relationship.

The way people fight/argue is something I think about a lot because it comes up with almost every client I’ve ever had, and with friends and family. The conversation about healthy fighting is often met with “I’ve never really thought about it”, which would have been my response a few years ago.

One of my professors in undergrad talked about healthy fighting, and how the way we fight is just as important as what we fight about. She told a story of how she used to be really bad at fighting, and it took her relationship almost ending for her to get it together. Whenever she would fight with her girlfriend, she would storm out and go radio silent. She wouldn’t respond to calls or texts. After talking to a therapist she realized that her behavior was manipulative to her girlfriend. Instead of her girlfriend being able to be upset and angry about what they were fighting about, she would now have to be worried because she didn’t know where her partner was, or if they were ok. She realized that this was unfair, and took steps to become better at fighting.

That class was pretty eye opening to me, and made me reflect on my own fighting style, and that of people in my life. I started realizing that so many of us fight in a way that is really unhealthy. Putting aside the stuff we already see as unhealthy like angry outbursts, breaking things, threatening to hurt themselves, screaming, and threatening to end the relationship, there are so many things people do that are manipulative, damaging, and counterproductive.

Some examples:

  • A friends cries and breaks down whenever she fights with her boyfriend. Even when she is the one in the wrong, her boyfriend always ends up having to comfort and console her because he feels bad that she is crying and breaking down.
  • A relative gives the silent treatment whenever he is upset. He goes days without saying a word to you if he is mad at you. It ends up making others feel so bad that they end up apologizing, even if he was the one in the wrong.
  • Another friend keeps tally of every thing her boyfriend has done and brings them all up whenever he brings up an issue. The argument is no longer about what her boyfriend brought up, but about all these things she has stored and saved up.
  • Another relative, like my professor, goes radio silent when in an argument with her partner. Her partner will send messages saying “just let me know you are ok”, and my relative will ignore them and say “let them worry, they deserve it”.

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I could go on and on with other examples, but I think we get the point.

I grew up in a household where the fighting was incredibly toxic and damaging, and it seeped into the way I argue with people. I’ve made an effort over the years to become better at regulating my emotions, and evaluating the way I argue and fight with people, and being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t do the same is a dealbreaker for me. Arguing in a relationship is unavoidable, but there are ways we can argue without it damaging the relationship. The way we argue/fight is often influenced by what we saw growing up, and I wish there were more efforts made to teach people about healthy arguing, and emotional regulation. It’s one of those basic life skills that I wish we were taught about in school.

Anyway, I was just wondering GT, do you think about the way you fight and why you fight the way that you do? Do you try to do better and fight in a way that is fair and productive, or do you get caught up in the moment and fight dirty? What are some things you do to keep yourself in check during arguments?