Is it healthy to fight with your partner? I asked a couples therapist

Words by Evangeline Polymeneas

One vs one.

Have you ever binge-watched The Real Housewives of New York City for so long that you suddenly develop a quasi-combative attitude? Have you been unable to stop yourself from picking apart everything your boyfriend says and does for a week all in the name of drama – and because that’s what Ramona would do – until you needed to take an indefinite pause from reality TV? Yeah, me too.

Picking fights for the drama, especially with a partner, is surprisingly common. When I put this to my friends they all wholeheartedly agreed. “Whenever [my partner and I] haven’t fought in a while, I get suspicious and just start one,” one of my friends said. “Yeah, I start fights when I’m bored,” added another.

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We often hear mixed opinions when it comes to fighting with our partners. Some say that in a healthy relationship you shouldn’t be fighting at all, while others believe that fighting is a healthy part of any relationship because it shows that you take the relationship seriously and are passionate about it.

Are we drama hungry? Or is fighting a rite of passage in any relationship? Curious as to whether arguments are a necessity or not, I enlisted the help of couples therapist, Mukti Jarvis. “Fighting denotes being combative, oppositional and aggressive towards the other. That doesn’t sound like caring, does it? Whilst not seeing something the same way as your partner is normal and natural, it’s also normal to be super upset if your boundaries and trust aren’t respected so engaging without being scary or intimidating is vital,” she tells me. 

Mukti explains that feeling this argumentative energy between your partner and yourself is a natural experience. “It’s how we know when we’re not in agreement with another [person]. It’s healthy to sense that and have constructive ways of handling that vibe.

“When we are adults in romantic relationships a disagreement is a normal part of a healthy relationship, [but] by the time we’re in an adult romantic relationship, we need to have learned [ways] to soothe and settle ourselves, to calmly organise our thoughts, feelings and issues in ways that don’t see us attack or avoid the other person.”

We love healthy coping mechanisms! But sometimes when my boyfriend leaves his dirty clothes on the floor next to the laundry bin instead of in the laundry bin, I seem to forget every single breathing exercise I’ve ever learnt and lose my mind. Mukti describes this as bickering and tells me there can be a difference. 

“When we bicker, we’re irritable and verbally pok[ing] and prod[ding] each other, often about minor matters.” She suggests “check[ing] to see if you’ve got bigger issues that you’re disgruntled about but are avoiding or haven’t found a way to address effectively as a couple”.

So if you catch yourself always seeking out an argument or fight with a partner, it might be a sign there’s a larger issue at play. “Either bickering or fighting could be what you’re familiar with as part of connecting or getting the attention of someone special. Neither one is ideal in the long term. Look for the third way, where you connect through sharing and listening from your heart or being playful and building each other up,” says Mutki.

If your desire to fight with your significant other still persists, Mutki suggests seeking out professional help. “If you’ve discovered that you use drama as a way to create connection or create interest, it’s worth getting help to find out what’s really important to you in life.”

Fighting and arguing is emotionally and, at times, physically exhausting and not just for you and your partner, but also for your friends, family, and anyone else around you. But as Mutki explains, therapy can be incredibly beneficial for couples that find themselves fighting more often than they’d like. “Emotionally focused therapy has loads of evidence that once a couple recognises and untangles their thoughts, they can work together to break the fight cycle. They can reshape how they connect and become successful in being vulnerable and intimate.

“Then you can have genuine, real adventure and worthwhile challenges that are about having and creating things that you really value. Provoking an argument or a fight because you’re lacking stimulation in your life is going to end up potentially causing you a lot more relationship distress and drama than you bargained for, even if that’s how you’ve got some enjoyment in the past.” As we wrap up our conversation, Mukti leaves me with some wise parting words to mull over: “people and their emotions aren’t sport”. 

For tips on how to navigate arguments in your relationship, try this.

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