The way you start a fight says a lot about your relationship’s future, so when you come out swinging, keep it clean.
A six-year study on 124 newlywed couples showed an interesting correlation between how a couple begins an argument and whether they stay together. Of the 17 couples who divorced by year six, every single one began conflict discussions with high negativity, usually with the wife criticizing her husband’s character (“You’re so lazy”) and the husband becoming defensive.
Laurie Puhn, author of Fight Less, Love More, agrees that fighting styles play a key role in the health of a relationship. “Fighting to change a person just exhausts you,” she says. “Fighting to get a solution to the problem at hand is healthy.”
What’s Your Fighting Style?
According to Puhn, there are four basic fighting styles, along with a solution for each one—even for couples who claim they never fight:
- Drama King and Queen. If your fights involve a lot of emotional explosions or objects being thrown across the room, you fit into this category. Puhn advises that when things start to get out of control, change the setting. Leave the room you’re in and go sit down at the kitchen table—anything to help switch up the dynamics and stop the drama so you can deal with the issue at hand.
- The Over-Analyzers. While having an understanding of the issues that affect your relationship is healthy, Puhn says couples who overanalyze every detail of their misunderstandings will never find resolution, because as soon as they’ve picked apart one issue, they’ll be on to the next. And when you constantly micro-analyze every disagreement, you end up concentrating on what’s wrong with your relationship rather than what’s good.
- She Talks, He Walks. We’ve all been in a situation where one partner wants to talk things out while the other wants to postpone or avoid the situation, or simply has much less to say. According to Puhn, both communication styles should be acknowledged and respected. She suggests telling the quieter partner that you want to talk, but setting a time limit. This will relieve their fears about being stuck in a long, drawn-out fight because there will only be a finite amount of time to come up with a solution.
- The Silent Treatment. On the other hand, if one person completely clams up during a fight, it can be frustrating and unfair to the other person. After all, if you can’t ever talk about the issue, you’ll never be able to solve it. This leads to mute conflict and palpable tension in the long run. Puhn says the silent treatment typically comes at the end of a relationship because the person who clams up has either given up or simply doesn’t have the energy to fight anymore. If you feel yourself going into silent mode, take it as a warning sign, and if you really do want to stay in the relationship, tell your partner what’s going on.
Lastly, Puhn has a warning for all you lovebirds who claim you “never fight.” It’s normal for couples to disagree, and if you and your partner never argue, it could be a sign that one of both of you are sublimating your own needs in an effort to keep the peace. She suggests checking in with your gut from time and time. Pay closer attention to your inner reactions and when you disagree or are unhappy about something, speak up.