If you want to really know (and love) someone, you have to learn to fight with them. Right?
I think a lot about fights. What are they really, and where do they come from? What starts them and what stops them? What is their value? How do we move on?
One therapist I know said that every single fight can be boiled down to one question being asked repeatedly: “Why don’t you love me unconditionally?” That’s probably true, and yet I’m interested in what’s below even that question.
Why does unconditional love matter so much to the unconscious mind, and why would it trigger a fight of all things?
When I speak on the issue of fighting, people often tell me that fighting is a necessary form of communication—essentially that fights execute course corrections in relationships. This is a common approach to fighting in the academic literature as well. Even Dr. John Gottman argues that fighting isn’t necessarily unhealthy. The research seems to suggest that so long as fights are responded to with self-reflection and respectful communication, they can be an effective way to elucidate vital issues. Furthermore, it appears that without fighting of some kind, couples are unable to create the depth and intimacy that a relationship needs in order to survive in the long term. Something about fighting forces us to learn things about ourselves and our partners that we might not otherwise learn.
Be that as it may, the research always leaves me wondering: If the communication was respectful, was it really a fight at all? Can’t course corrections be accomplished in some other, less painful way? And are fights really the most effective way to ask for unconditional love?
What is fighting really about? Are disagreements really the only way to create depth in a relationship?
These questions are at the heart of the Fighting column here at Together Magazine. In this series, we’ll bring you musings, stories, and advice from writers of all types about this very human, and seemingly unavoidable, experience. What is a fight, why do we do it, and what can we learn about ourselves in the process? We’re not the first to tackle the question, and we won’t be the last. Our hope is to broaden the conversation by exploring the outer boundaries of what fighting is all about. I hope you’ll join us.
Erik Newton is the founder of Together.