What is a good fight?
May 3, 2012 6:34 PM   Subscribe

You are in a healthy, happy relationship: What are your fights like with your significant other?

I'm trying to figure out what fights are like in healthy, happy relationships.

My friends talk about having a fight with their boyfriends, but it's hard for me to tell what that's like on the inside. So what's it like when you fight with your significant other, especially in the early stages of a relationship?

Do you have recurring fights that never get resolved? Is that a sign that the relationship, however awesome, is doomed? Or am I being a perfectionist?

Do you have a rational process of conflict resolution, or do you work it out emotionally? How much crying/distance/etc. takes place? How do you know what is acceptable grumpiness?

(I've read these threads:
and they were helpful, but I'm wondering what the fight looks like. What is realistic?)

I know there's no way to generalize and this varies from person to person. But I grew up without good role models and television/film relationships are not a reliable guide (who knew?). So I want to know what it's like for *you*.
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (53 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, also, I tend to avoid typical fighting (yelling, mean comments, etc.) and just get distant or sad and sort of temporarily mentally give up on the relationship to try to diffuse the pain. I then try to address the general issue (not the specific example in the moment, but a general pattern of things that bother me about the other person). For people who have this style as well, what do your fights look like?
posted by 3491again at 6:38 PM on May 3, 2012

I am in a healthy, happy, newly-engaged relationship. We've been together a little less than two years. We don't usually have fights per se, but we do have some conflict, so I'll talk about that. We both do things that the other person doesn't like sometimes - that's normal. So, I'll say, "Hey, it bugs me when you do X" - we are both very direct about problems, which helps. Then, we will talk about a why doing X bothers me, and my fiancee might agree not to do X. Or, she might say that doing X is important to her, or a hard habit for her to break, and we'll come to an agreement. This kind of "conflict" happens maybe once a week, and is drama-free, it's just a quick conversation.

We don't have any recurring fights that don't get resolved. There are recurring reminders to do things (I forget to put dishes in the sink, even though I try to remember), but it's not nagging, I appreciate the reminders, and it's not an ongoing source of conflict.

We have had a couple bigger fights. Bigger fights happen when there's a big miscommunication, generally. Sometimes one or both of us cry because we are really upset. We haven't yelled at all, just talked about what was going on. What seems to happen is that we both explain what we though / what we were doing and why, and things just seem to get resolved once we both understand where the other person was coming from.

On preview: Yelling and mean comments are aren't good, but getting distant and not talking about the issue isn't good either. I think the main reason we have a mostly conflict-free relationship (and such easily resolved conflict) is that we are both very good about saying, "hey, this is bothering me" rather than keeping it inside and waiting until it builds up.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:46 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

We've been married 18 years and I think most of our fights have been fair. We do have a few recurring issues, based on recurring problems (introvert/extrovert marriage, for example) but I don't, anyway, have the sense that they are unresolved in that I think we *hear* each other, we just aren't always both in a position to avoid arguing anyway.

Anyways, in arguments:
- we don't belittle, call names, tear each other down or go for the most vulnerable spots. We have raised our voices and on rare occasions thrown things (but never at each other, more like tossing a dish towel on the floor)
- either party can call a time out and walk away and not be hounded
- we frequently use humour or other means to connect even while angry
- we have only used the divorce word maybe once each, meant it, and it meant an immediate halt to deal with the core issue whatever it was

- even if one person has to compromise or there is no immediate solution, I have pretty much always felt that my spouse heard and tried his best to understand me, and that he wants to find a solution, even if he backslid on following through (chores were a big area like this for us)
- each of us can be direct not just about issues ("this is really bothering me") but also about where we are ("I had a really bad day at work; can you just give me some space right now.")

Grumpiness: People get grumpy. That means quieter, frownier. It passes overnight generally. It is not a tool to manipulate an outcome.

The way I know it's a good relationship is that I feel enhanced in my joys, held in my sorrows, and there is nothing true and dear to me that I cannot say to my husband. He has my back and I his. Even when we are fighting, I know that.
posted by Zen_warrior at 6:52 PM on May 3, 2012 [48 favorites]

I consider myself to be in a healthy, happy relationship with my boyfriend (of about a year, with a 1 month break in there). We rarely fight (maybe once every two months). I'll describe our latest fight to give an example of what these fights are usually like.

We were coming home from somewhere and heading out to a potluck soon. I'd been planning to cook for the potluck and my boyfriend had agreed to help. As we got close to my apartment I noticed a huge crowd near the waterfall that's close by. I persuaded my boyfriend to drop our bags in the foyer of my place and to go investigate. It turned out to be a rubber duck race over the falls! I was delighted by this and we watched the ducks being released.

Anyway we got back to my place and my boyfriend first did most of the dishes that were in the sink, while I started prepping for cooking, and then said he wanted to go write an email to a friend and if that was ok. I said sure. As I was chopping the cauliflower and onion for the dish I was preparing and starting to cook the bacon etc. I started feeling a trifle annoyed that he was in the living room while I was doing the cooking for this party we were both going to. We'd lost time looking at the ducks and the cooking would go much faster if I had a sous chef to help. I called out to him saying that he'd promised he'd help with the cooking. He came over to the kitchen. I asked him to chop the cooked bacon in an admittedly slightly bossy tone of voice. It looked like I wasn't doing anything even though I was planning to drain and start sauteing the boiled cauliflower immediately. He said, and I quote, "chop the bacon yourself!"

I was immediately livid. I ignored him for the next ten minutes while I completed the dish myself. He immediately backed down and said he was sorry. Eventually I said I was sorry too. We went to the living room and talked it over. He said that he didn't think it was nice to say that he'd promised to help with the cooking when he had cleared it with me about the emailing, and also said that if I'd just said that the cooking would go much faster with him around he wouldn't have felt quite as annoyed. I agreed that I could have been more tactful. I told him that he shouldn't have said what he did, as I was still doing the bulk of the cooking for the party. He agreed that it was a stupid thing to say. We both hugged each other and cried a little bit.

This is how most of our fights go. One or both of us says something tactless or mean. The other gets a bit angry, there are usually quick apologies and/or crying (my boyfriend's a shameless weeper). The anger rarely lasts long and most times it's because of some simple misunderstanding. We mostly need to learn to give the other person the benefit of the doubt more, since most times we have extremely good intentions but sometimes don't communicate in the best ways.

We never yell at each other, there's never any raised voices. Rarely do we give each other the cold shoulder (though I did a little bit in the example above, not something I'm proud of).
posted by peacheater at 6:53 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a pretty good overview of the best current research on how to argue fairly with your partner.

My husband does a better job than I with most of that. I tend to stew and then snap. I think the most productive disagreements we have are when one of us gets it together enough to say "Sweetie, it was really inconsiderate of you to leave the car with almost no gas when I was in a hurry to get to my doctor's appointment," or "I hate it when you make plans to get together with our friends and don't consult me," or something equally detailed.

One of the traps I vowed never to get into with a partner was the "you always" vs. "I never" battle. That tends not to end well.

My husband and I come from very different backgrounds in terms of our families of origin when it comes to fighting. In a movie, his parents would be played by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara; mine might be played by Tony Randall and Bea Arthur. His parents (who adored each other) were constantly bellowing at each other about tiny things; my parents (who adored each other) were your standard conflict-averse WASP/lace-curtain Irish types who mostly stewed and sometimes snarked.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:14 PM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Most of our fights boil down to either, "You're not paying enough attention to me," or "You're a lazy slob." Getting to the core issue is useful. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt, reminding each other that we love each other, is also useful. I recall once saying something like, "Well, I'm not going to divorce you over this, so we'll figure something out." That alone obviously didn't fix the problem, but it gave us a little breathing room.

Be careful of arguing about patterns of behavior. I tend to bring up past incidents that I think are relevant to whatever we're conflicting over - in my mind, we're having a conversation about Things You Do That Piss Me Off, and it seems like a good time to talk about any number of things that fall into that category. He sees this as unnecessary piling on. I am still working on refraining from blurting out, "And ANOTHER thing..." I get that it's hard to convey that you're not angry about one day of dirty dishes, you're angry about a month of dirty dishes, but think about the best way to convey that.
posted by orangejenny at 7:16 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I definitely identify with the "getting distant and sad and mentally planning for the seemingly inevitable breakup" mode; one of the great things about my husband was how patient he was in encouraging me to snap out of that and tell him what I was sad or angry about. It is so much better to do things this way (the "it pissed me off when you said my new skirt made me look like an elderly hippie!!" way, I mean). Huge improvement in my quality of life. Being a martyr is surprisingly overrated.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:19 PM on May 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

Our fights are rare and brief. Mostly consist of a bit of snappishness, and maybe a brief snit if someone gets their nose out of joint. We do have a running bit of unpleasantness over what time to leave to go out on the weekend... I usually want to leave early because I'm hungry, while he's fine with eating late and feels like I'm dragging him away from his "relaxing time." This is not a relationship-threatener by any means, we just get pissy about it from time to time.

What our fights do not consist of: yelling, screaming, name-calling, shouting the other person down, bringing up unrelated issues, pushing one another's hot buttons just to be mean, insults, belittlement.

On the few occasions there has been a big issue, we have talked it out, sometimes heatedly, but still without behaving meanly or contemptuously. We are pretty good at hearing one another out and trying to see the other person's side.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:20 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband and I have been together about four years, healthy and happy from the start. Our fights are pretty boring.

Most of them are brought on by me getting overstressed and either freaking out about something not worth freaking out over or getting crabby and grumpy with him when he's not the reason I'm stressed out. He always, always reacts patiently and without retaliation to my crankiness. If we need to have a discussion about something, either one of us can say "this is really important to me" and everything else takes a back seat while we discuss it.

If there's a problem we can fix, we discuss solutions, agree on one, and then follow through. If there's a problem we can't really fix, we listen to the other person and make sure they feel heard. Sometimes that's all people want.

If either of us are having a crabby day, we don't let it turn into a reason to start a fight with them. We take responsibility for our own feelings and are quick to apologize. We have never said mean things to each other in anger, or called each other names, and we are careful not to throw around "You always" or "You never", even when bringing up recurring issues.

I don't think recurring issues are necessarily a dealbreaker, but it definitely depends on what those issues are. Recurring trust issues are a problem, most others can be worked around.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:22 PM on May 3, 2012

My husband and I don't fight much at all. Usually what happens is we get all tense about whatever it is, ignore it until the next day, and then hash it out over email while we're at work. I don't know if this is a method I would necessarily recommend, but it works for us (so far).
posted by elizeh at 7:32 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Been with my partner for over 10 years, living together for about 4. Most of the time, I think of "fighting" (like, angry acrimonious arguing) as something that happens when communication breaks down enough that one of us doesn't feel heard. Most of the time, it's more "... hey. you did this thing. it was unfair and pissed me off." I try to focus on behavior and make sure to go with "this thing sucks" not "you suck", and avoiding "always/never" phrasing. Also, we both make a point to reassure each other when we're disagreeing.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:40 PM on May 3, 2012

I've been with my partner for about 7 years (living together 4 or 5). We don't have a lot of conflict, but when we do, to the best of our abilities we try to live up to the ideal that even when we disagree, we are on the same team -- so we're never creating a situation in which one of us "wins" while the other "loses." Instead, we work to find a solution that works for both of us, together.

This means we try really hard not raise our voices (and actual yelling is very rare -- it's happened a small handful of times over the years, but we both have to be REALLY upset). We do everything we can to not say mean things about each other personally (or about each other's family, or friends, or life choices). We try our best not to get sarcastic. We don't bring up past fights. We try to let the other one say their piece while trying really hard to listen, even when it's difficult. We also maintain a united front in front of friends or family at all times -- we never, ever, ever belittle each other or fight in front of anyone else.

When all that doesn't work -- that is, when we're obviously not hearing each other, or when one of us feels we can't articulate what we need to say very well -- we have a code phrase (based in a mutual joke that makes us both laugh) that essentially works as a "get out of jail free" card, so that if the conflict is obviously minor or petty we drop it immediately, and if the conflict is major we retire to neutral corners till we can speak more calmly. Sometimes this actually means we go to bed mad, which is supposedly something you're never supposed to do -- but we find that we almost always wake up feeling tender towards each other, and so that almost any conflict/bad feelings from the night before can be dispelled pretty quickly.

A few other tricks: when you're having the conflict, make yourselves sit down and face each other while you talk. Try to hold hands if you can. This reinforces a sense of connection. Also, avoid the words "always," "never," "should," and "but" as much as you can, as they almost always tend to amplify negative messages while negating positive ones.

All of this was a dynamic we worked consciously to develop within the first 6-9 months of our relationship (it was harder for me than for him to get the hang of it, truth be told, because I had exactly zero healthy role models growing up on this score).
posted by scody at 7:47 PM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Today, my girlfriend and I argued about how I bought chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. I wasn't aware that she had planned on stuffing the beasts for dinner. We went back and forth about how I never get her what she wants, and I retaliated by saying that chicken breasts are boring and don't contain any fat, and I didn't realize she was going to stuff them with yummy cheese. So we had pizza for dinner, and I agreed to get breasts next time we're at the store within the next day or two. Pretty average, I guess.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:06 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and importantly, I apologized.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:10 PM on May 3, 2012

13 years here, and I think pretty healthy. We handle disagreements so so -- I go quiet a bit too often, she cracks jokes a bit too often -- but I'd second everything zen_warrior said. That's what we aspire to, and often achieve.
posted by ead at 8:15 PM on May 3, 2012

My husband and I have been together over 10 years (married for 9) & we have a happy, healthy relationship. Here is a previous answer I made specifically about how we fight so I'll try not to repeat myself from that, and just answer these questions here.

So what's it like when you fight with your significant other, especially in the early stages of a relationship?

It's loud & dramatic and then it resolves quickly. We catch ourselves as we go off the rails and quickly nudge ourselves back into being reasonable with each other instead of just emotional. We try to always be honest, understanding, and empathetic to each other.

In the early stages of our relationship we almost never fought at all, because we were so caught up in limerence that we kept extending the benefit of the doubt to each other. The very few times there was conflict it really shook us up and there was a lot of mutual crying and then, y'know, the passionate make-up boinking.

Do you have recurring fights that never get resolved?

Oh, sure. One particular thing off the top of my head is that I do most of the housework so if I feel like I'm doing too much and he's not doing the stuff that's in his purview or he's making more work for me then I get pretty cranky and blow up. We're both headstrong and yell but we defuse it (see previous answer).

Is that a sign that the relationship, however awesome, is doomed?

Maybe? In our case, it isn't. We do a lot of ongoing negotiation with each other. But we're not in the early stages of our relationship.

Do you have a rational process of conflict resolution, or do you work it out emotionally? How much crying/distance/etc. takes place? How do you know what is acceptable grumpiness?

Again, see previous answer. I might cry if I'm overwhelmed in other ways. He doesn't usually cry unless it's something that's a really big deal. We don't do distance, it doesn't work for our dynamic - it happened a lot some years back in our relationship and it was very unpleasant for both of us. It works much better if we stay engaged with each other once a fight starts until we resolve it. We accept when the other is grumpy and try to be understanding, a little placating, and give space or support if needed. We call each other out immediately if we go over the line - and we back down when we know we're over the line and apologize, instead of getting defensive.

What is realistic?

Well, the plot of my relationship is that we went from getting along really well and hardly ever fighting, to fighting on a roller coaster (fight, make up, fight again, make up) for a few years (exacerbated by being new parents) and then we did a lot of relationship analysis over some time (with each other, not in therapy). Finally he had a health crisis resolve which was at the root of a lot of our miscommunication so since then we've been pretty awesome. This is not to say everything is perfect because it isn't, but I think that deep-down knowledge that you're truly a team, you're on each other's side and you're not going to quit (it has to be mutual) is really the key. Our relationship is built on honesty and trust so we have learned to be open with each other - not that we weren't in the beginning, but there is a difference once you are living together, in each other's space all the time, negotiating housework and children and societal roles.

Really I would say, to me personally, the limerence period should be awesome because when you're first together is when you're absolutely on your best behavior with each other. To be frank it's only downhill from there - I don't mean that in a bad way, but getting to know someone else, living with them, handling life stresses with them - it requires compromise, adapting, negotiation, figuring out your boundaries; and you will discover more and more about them as it goes on - so in the beginning, I think you really should feel very solid that this particular relationship is worth the investment of your time, your emotions, and yourself.
posted by flex at 8:25 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]






M: OK!




M: ...
M: OK!


posted by Blasdelb at 8:31 PM on May 3, 2012 [55 favorites]

At 16 years of marriage, it is 10 minutes yelling- then it is forgotten about. Life's other bullshit paves over it.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:34 PM on May 3, 2012

I've known my husband for almost twenty years, we've been together as a couple for about twelve and married for almost ten, parents together for nine. Our relationship has evolved (and at times, devolved, I guess you could say) quite a bit over the years and I expect that to continue. But even when it dips into "bad" it always swings back up into "better than it ever was" because we learn from what has happened.

Do you have recurring fights that never get resolved?

So far, yes.

Is that a sign that the relationship, however awesome, is doomed? Or am I being a perfectionist?

Certainly not, because we have had recurring fights that have indeed been resolved eventually. Some issues just take more hashing out than others. Everybody comes with plenty of baggage from their own upbringings, and their previous relationships, and their lives as single people outside of relationships. You bring a lot of ideas into a relationship and you have no idea of knowing which of these ideas is going to become a flashpoint. Something you were in perfect harmony with with everyone you knew up until you met your current SO suddenly becomes A Thing, and then you have 20 or 30 or more years of normal to break down and analyze before you can come to agreement on the New Normal. That's just part of putting two lives together.

Do you have a rational process of conflict resolution, or do you work it out emotionally?

I'm emotional, and I come from a noisy, emotional family. My husband was raised straight-up WASP Midwestern passive-aggressive. So I rage and pace, he holds in until he explodes. I have tried to learn to moderate my emotions when it's not really necessary to go full-throttle, he is trying to learn to be more expressive. We are better at this than we were, I expect we'll get even better, because we are very conscious of it, and because we have children to model for, and because we see negative examples in our respective families of origin that we do not wish to continue to emulate.

How much crying/distance/etc. takes place?

Not as much as there used to be, because now I feel comfortable just saying "I need to cry, it's not really you, it's that there's a lot of emotions and it makes me feel like crying, so give me fifteen minutes and then crack a bottle of wine and we'll finish talking about it".

How do you know what is acceptable grumpiness?

You ask. You ask what it's about, you ask what the other person needs from you, and then you back off. If they won't say what it's about, you tell them "let me know if I can do anything for you, I'll be over here" and then you go over there. And while you're over there, think about whether there's anything you did that the other person won't tell you about, in case your SO is drawing on experience from having been raised not to talk about messy emotions.

When your SO tells you what they're grumpy about, you acknowledge it, even if they're grumpier than you would be, even if they're not handling it the way you would handle it. You let them feel what they feel, and you be a sounding board, you don't tell them what they should or should not be doing to fix it.
posted by padraigin at 8:58 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

In a happy, healthy relationship of 9 months. We don't "fight," as in, we don't call each other names, scream at each other, ignore each other, or belittle the other person. We do have conflict or tension at times and it is usually me who gets upset -- I am rather emotional and get wound up quickly. If he has done something to legitimately hurt my feelings, he apologizes. If not, I realize I am reacting out of my own issues and apologize.

When we fight, we usually both apologize fairly quickly and it's normally resolved within about 10 minutes. Sometimes if he is mad at me as well it takes a couple hours to blow over. As I said, we have never ever insulted or attacked the other person's character. I usually cry when we fight and tell him I don't want to be fighting with him.

We did have one recurring issue that caused more serious tension in the beginning, but we have gotten much better at discussing that and it recently hasn't been an issue at all. We do have some unresolvable things (the only one I can think of is that he gets ready and likes to get out the door much faster) but we have never had any tension around it. We just tease each other and aren't bothered by it.
posted by queens86 at 9:15 PM on May 3, 2012

This is going to be a boring reply. We've been married for 18 years, and together for 20. We don't fight. We do communicate extremely well, and we make the effort to talk things through even when we might not want to. We try hard not to sulk, and when we are feeling sulky we are usually honest about the cause. We are never passive-aggressive towards each other. We never bad mouth each other or call each other names. I know my wife always has my back, and she knows I always have hers. There's a lot of trust, and we are honest with each other. And we make the effort to communicate with each other, even when we'd rather nurse our hurt feelings a bit.

This is not to say we never disagree! We have disagreements like any couple -- most minor, some major. Among our major disagreements: we've both changed careers several times, and as a result we've both gone through periods of being unemployed or under employed; we didn't initially see eye-to-eye about when we wanted to start a family; we have different takes on the role of religion in our lives to the extent that there's a narrow region of common ground that we have to compromise to maintain, as our natural tendencies pull us in different directions; etc.

The bottom line, though, is that we genuinely love and care about each other, and when we do disagree, we talk it out; we don't fight. We try very hard not to hurt each other, and if we do, we apologize. We're also both both fairly rational. Oh, and neither of us likes drama. And we work on our relationship - we try not to take each other for granted, and we address issues quickly and don't let them simmer. We don't go to bed mad.

Like I said, probably a boring answer. I don't know if any of the above is helpful, but it's worked for us.
posted by mosk at 9:15 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is going to be a boring reply. We've been married for 18 years, and together for 20. We don't fight. We do communicate extremely well, and we make the effort to talk things through even when we might not want to. We try hard not to sulk, and when we are feeling sulky we are usually honest about the cause. We are never passive-aggressive towards each other.

seconding this and noting that it is pretty much the summary.

s/18/12/ years, though.

and neither of us likes drama

What I notice from couples who have a lot of fights is that it seems to be a sort of mating ritual.
posted by rr at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Been with my boyfriend for almost a year, we're moving in together at the beginning of next month. We've yet to have what I would call a fight. I'm not saying we've never disagreed on anything -- there was actually a pretty complex and long-lasting issue for the first 5 or so months of our relationship that I needed a lot of reassurance about -- but we always say "Hey, you know what, I need to talk to you about this", and that's not something that the other will ever say "No"/"No, not now"/"I don't want to" to. It's happening, and we talk until everything is resolved. I'm usually good at picking up on when something is wrong with him, and he is not the best at picking up when I am upset, so I have had to learn that I can't just wait on him, I need to tell him about it instead of getting more upset that he hasn't noticed. We do the whole "don't go to bed angry" thing, but this is debatable -- some people need more time to cool off than others, and sleeping on an issue can help sometimes. Similarly, some people need to go away and go on a walk or drive or something, to put space between the two involved, and others need to be close afterward. A lot of it is figuring out what works for that specific couple, and making sure you have compatible needs in terms of fighting -- like others have mentioned, if drama is fun or not, if they need space or to be close, if they can pick up on unsaid feelings or not, etc.

Mosk's post is really reassuring actually, because I feel like that's how we are now (great communicators, not passive-agressive, etc.) and it's good to see that can last.
posted by jorlyfish at 9:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love my folks, but they did not (and still do not) model good fighting behaviour for couples. That list of fair fighting techniques up above? Yeah, my parents fail every single one of them.

So I make a conscious effort to Not Be Like Them. Respect, I think is the key; be as respectful as you can at all times and the rest is just noise.

Some people never go to bed angry and hash it out then and there. That doesn't work for me. I will stew on an issue - without letting it influence the rest of my behaviour otherwise! I guess I'm a little better at compartmentalizing - and then talk about it if it still bothers me after that long. If it does, it matters to me, even if it might be trivial in the grand scheme. I never hash anything out right then and there - emotions are likely to run too high (my temper takes after my mother, unfortunately) and I'm much more likely to say something hurtful and overblown. So I have an ironclad grip on my disengage button, and come back when I can talk about things in a civil manner, whether that's a few hours later or a few days (depends on the issue's importance). I think the worst I came to was snapping a terse "I am incredibly pissed off at you right now, so I'm going to hang up before I shout at you." And then hung up. Some people say this is akin to cold-shouldering, but the two of us have discussed this before and agreed that this is the much healthier alternative compared to on the spot emotive yelling.

It goes without saying that name-calling, screaming, low blows, "you always"/"I never" etc. never flies with us, and I think it's because we had that space to sort out emotions and reasonings before talking about it.

Some days we'll be a little snappish, but pretty much 3 minutes later one or the other would realize the bullheadedness and apologize. If not, an level "Hey, that thing you did pissed me off for [reason]" and presto, instant discussion/apology. (If it involves changing habits on one or both ends, future reminders are taken as reminders in good faith instead of nagging.) My boyfriend's good at calling me out when my temper is flaring unreasonably (like hungry/tired/hormonal and suddenly angry about nothing) and that would instantly calm me down. I give him a little more space than that (because I'm used to arguments going supernova when doing callouts on the spot, courtesy of my folks). We're both very rational, cerebral people, but me giving myself the breathing room to sort out my logic and reasoning makes it easier for me to talk about it later (I still cry though. Not proud of it, but I've never been able to stop).

We just generally take things in good faith and really try to listen if we can tell this matters to the other. And yeah, it's good to hold hands when talking about it (and it's so much easier to hold hands and talk about it once we've had some breathing room...)

We haven't had any recurring fights yet. That might change once we move in together though.
posted by Hakaisha at 9:39 PM on May 3, 2012

What I notice from couples who have a lot of fights is that it seems to be a sort of mating ritual.

It's funny that you say this, because I was going to offer that a good test question is, "Does this make the sex better?" If so, you are doing great, keep at it, good for you. If not -- if the way you are arguing makes you cranky and resentful and not want to be naked -- then you should make some changes.

So I'd make a distinction. "Fighting" is something we do maybe once a year, where there is yelling and name calling and the "divorce" word is used with feeling. Like a big thunderstorm, it maybe clears the air, but really it's a reflection of outside pressures and it's a big warning sign to pause, reflect, and reconnect. Once a year is fine for this, but there's no way I could do once a month.

"Arguing" is more routine, and maybe more what you are asking about. Perhaps 99 percent of the time, little frictions just get solved in the moment -- "oh, hey, you didn't have time to do the dishes? No problem, I'll take care of that." But then once every few weeks, those little frictions kind of add up or there is some external factor and things get aired. For us, that means maybe voices are somewhat raised, but not yelling to the point you'd hear things through a locked door. Grouchy things are said, but not to the point of calling someone a bitch or bastard. "I hate you" is not said.

And most importantly, the focus is on making things better. Or more specifically, making the relationship better. So the heavy guns (yelling, crying, stomping off) get reserved for the major issues, and the routine discussions are focused on the issue at hand.

A good, vigorous discussion, where both people feel listened to and tensions are aired and explored, definitely makes the sex better. A nasty fight where you are made to feel bad and dirty verbal punches are thrown does not make the sex better (unless you take it to the point where you are having breakup sex, I guess). If you are doing it right, you end up feeling closer; no one involved should feel bullied or trampled.
posted by Forktine at 10:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My partner and I have been together about three years and have fought twice. This lack of fighting is down to him being incredibly kind and patient to an extent rarely found in nature - I'm a very lucky woman.

Our most recent fight happened to be the night before last. I was exhausted from a long day of work, came home and made dinner but first had to wash some dishes I needed to use, then had to book a flight and coordinate that with someone else who was also booking onto the same flight. When it came time to book the hotel, I searched for and found the hotel and then asked my partner to book it. He said "but you're already halfway there" and then went back to lazing about on the couch as he had been doing all evening.

I snapped and told him I was irritated because I felt he should have washed the dish and should have just agreed to book the hotel (ok, that's not really snapping, but it's as close as we get). He immediately booked the hotel, then walked away into the kitchen to clean it and, I suspect, to get some space. When he came back I apologized for "snapping" and told him that I did appreciate he almost always does more than his fair share of the housework. I also told him that I wanted a day off from chores the next day. The next day he did all the cooking and the dishes, we bought our lunches instead of having me packing them, and I got to laze on the couch and chill out all evening. Result!

I guess it just boils down to staying pretty calm, communicating what we need, and helping each other to get it. But as I say, I'm lucky. With other partners fights have been horrible, so it's definitely down to him being great rather than me.
posted by hazyjane at 10:08 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

We've been together 21 years, lived together for 20 (married 6). We never yell or call names. That's awful. Very very rarely we have a kind of frustrating argument about nothing and we barely speak for a couple of days because I don't feel heard or loved. I spend that time utterly heartbroken. That's happened just a few times, the last probably five years ago.

Most of our disagreements are either us being crabby and tired and depressed about life in general, realizing we're bring unreasonable, and consciously dialing it back. We are not afraid of apologizing right away as needed. Sometimes we'll have a longer "sometimes I feel..." conversargument, but we generally end those with acknowledgements of the validity of each other's feelings and promises to try to be more aware of whatever.

We try to remember that it's very important to try not to hurt each others feelings.
posted by Occula at 10:11 PM on May 3, 2012

Married for 10 years. We very rarely "fight", per se, and there is certainly never any yelling. Usually one or the other of us is annoyed or hurt, we talk about it when we're less upset, try to be honest, no name-calling, and we remember we're on the same team. I think that's the main thing, remembering you're in this together - it's not about winning or losing, or solving every disagreement, even the long-standing ones (and yes, we have those), it's about keeping the big picture in mind and reaching a state that works for your relationship.
posted by biscotti at 10:17 PM on May 3, 2012

I came from a fucked up family, and I spend every day working on myself. My husband is lovely and came from a lovely family. He's also very strong, personality-wise. He puts up with zero bullshit.


Our arguments have evolved over our relationship.


I wanted to describe our arguments for you, OP, but that seems so intimate!

Suffice it to say that when we were new, it was a lot more volatile, and as we have evolved, the arguments are very much softer.


The idea of hurting my partner with my words or attitude is much less appealing than solving the problem - ditto my husband. We just want to solve the problem - damaging each other or the relationship is NOT on the menu!


Sure we disagree. But that disagreements hurt us? That shit we deny. Nothing comes between our love for each other. This is via a conscious agreement. It's work, not easy. And we do it.


That's my answer.
posted by jbenben at 11:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, everyone, thank you so much. This really puts things into perspective. I really appreciate your sharing these vulnerable moments -- because they're so vulnerable, no one wants to talk about them and people like me have no clue what others are experiencing.

I think I was making a lot out of the fact that we have a lot of little "moments of tension" -- we don't really fight -- and also because certain issues seem to come up again and again.

We also seem to have different styles in that he likes me to bring things up in the moment and I seem constitutionally incapable of doing that, preferring to wait until I have a list of examples and then say "Here are five times you did this!"

Another thing I tend to do is want to point out every instance of something that bugs me, for the sake of consistency or something. Like he has one joke that I find annoying that he says a lot. I feel like if I don't call him on it *every time*, he'll forget that I don't like it.

In other words, I'm learning a lot from you guys. Thanks. :)
posted by 3491again at 11:48 PM on May 3, 2012

I'm married to someone who's rather a polar opposite from me (5 years), and so we have recurring disagreements based on that.

I get frustrated with him leaving the lights on, leaving the water running, asking me to mail things for him, bossing me around while I'm cooking, and not cleaning up in the kitchen or cleaning the bathroom.

He gets frustrated with me for never locking the front door, not doing the laundry, spacing out and not answering the phone when he calls, and if I try to peer pressure him to do something he really doesn't want to do that I think is good for him, like donate blood or go camping with my family.

I think we have both accepted that neither one of us is likely to improve on any of the above issues and that we will just mention them in passing on principle. Sometimes I get really bent out of shape about some little thing and start on some sort of tirade, and he always responds with mildness and humor, and then I apologize. Sometimes (rarely) he says something thoughtless and hurtful and then I sulk and am hurt and he apologizes.

The difference between this and other relationships I've been in where we had real unhealthy conflict is that I can't think of a time when my husband and I were both mad at each other. One of us might be mad at the other, but we don't get mad at the same time, so we never get into a yelling match or not talking to each other or any of those sorts of things.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:17 AM on May 4, 2012

Three years here, not too many arguments. Some are probably inevitable; we've certainly learned to argue "better" over time.

We've intuited some of Gottman's principles, specifically his points that 1) most couples will disagree and argue, 2) the key to maintaining a happy relationship are the repair attempts.

What he noticed is basically that as an argument winds down, one or the other partner will make a 'repair attempt', a minor gesture to remind the other person of love, humour, or another positive emotion. He says it's best when couples can recognise and promote those attempts.

It's changed our relationship greatly for the positive. Sometimes little jokes or flippant comments which seem almost trite can be those repair attempts. Since we gained this knowledge, we end most of our disagreements with laughter.

Further, Gottman has the magic ratio of one negative interaction to five positive interactions. How that's worked for us is basically choosing our battles with more thoughtfulness. This goes hand-in-hand with his idea of "permanent differences". Permanent differences are basically things about the other person that are never going to change. They're not deal-breakers because they're not necessarily huge negatives. More minor, constant annoyances.

As an only-child, if we are at a party or an event and I get distracted, I'll literally just walk off and go exploring for twenty minutes or a half-hour. I don't even think about it. I tried to change it for a while, but when absorbed in the moment, I just don't think about it. Drove partner bonkers at the beginning, absolutely bonkers. We had quite a few arguments about it. Then we were chatting about it, and decided to find a compromise. Now, when I go exploring, I keep it within a ten minute or so walk back, and always return immediately if she SMS's me. And it's worked very well. She has accepted that's just part of my personality, and I have accepted that when she wants me to participate in these events with her, I'll be there and fully present. It's been great.

And that's a permanent difference. Gottman states deal-breakers as permanent differences are unacceptable. I had a previous partner that would go out, drink excessively, and wind up on methamphetamine. It didn't happen often, maybe once every year or two. But that's a permanent difference I didn't want to accept.

And it's great, once you find those differences and accept them in the other person -- literally learning to laugh about it. Current partner loves re-arranging things when she cleans. Is like the secret migratory pattern of the kitchenwares. Drove me cray cray at the beginning. Now that I have accepted it, I find it really amusing. It's like going hunting for the cheese grater. And we laugh about it.

I guess the summary is that there are two kinds of arguments, the ones that matter (about important stuff like money) and the ones that don't (ego trips and general pithiness). The latter fade as you accept you are deeply in love with this imperfect person. The former are inevitable, and thus it's not IF you disagree, but HOW you get back to centre after a disagreement.

We also seem to have different styles in that he likes me to bring things up in the moment and I seem constitutionally incapable of doing that, preferring to wait until I have a list of examples and then say "Here are five times you did this!"

Score-keeping may very well destroy your relationship. I strongly suggest you alter this practice as score-keeping in my experience is one of the most corrosive forms of disagreement in relationships.
posted by nickrussell at 1:48 AM on May 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

These are some really great answers, and I look forward to reading them when I'm feeling crabby and fighty in the future.

You can be a good person and in a relationship with another good person and still have unhealthy fights, and you can CHANGE that. I think my fianceƩ and I are pretty great together, but do I still get urges to pout, slam doors, say mean things, make dramatic martyr statements, etc? Of course. I just have to work on changing that. And the thing is, I am making a new habit. I am making the habit of being honest, straightforward, respectful, kind, and selfless (when appropriate.) So is she. And it is actually getting easier. I look at it like, this is the progress we have made in two+ years. I can not WAIT to keep working on it, and see how much we can improve our communication over the next ten, twenty, fifty years. So we forgive ourselves for making mistakes, and importantly, we forgive the other for making mistakes, and just try to move forward together.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:48 AM on May 4, 2012

Mr. ThaBombShelterSmith and I have been together for almost 8 year, married for 4 in June. Our fights can go all out when we have them, but it is of the utmost importance to us that we not go to bed angry at each other. Taking a fight into the bedroom can sour the bed you share together (if you do that, my grandparents didn't but that was a different time). My husband is much better than me about keeping the conversation going in a positive direction (and I am too!), but I like to stew longer. It's just my personality. The best part about our relationship is that we are truly yin and yang; he is very patient with me when I am quick to snap. When we are having an argument, I like to draw it out for whatever reason; I want him to know how upset I am even when he aims to resolve it quickly.

Over time, he has learned that I want him to hear specifically what has upset me, and what it makes me feel like, how he's making me feel, and how I want to change it. He listens to me. I listen to him. You have to listen to one another and absolutely under no circumstance, say something during the course of the argument that stabs your partner in the heart. It doesn't matter what the fight is about, how bad it is, but you cannot say something so hurtful because it can't be taken back. It echoes through the relationship. Neither of us have done this in our relationship, but I have watched my dad do this to my mom over the course of my life, and I have heard from my mom how it hurts her after the fact. They are otherwise extremely happy and stable, but my dad is the son of a Holocaust survivor*, so his raising was significantly impacted by the fights he witnessed between his mom and his dad (an American GI), (read: petty name calling in different languages, throwing things, silence that lasted for a week).

* Note: I am in now way saying that all children of Holocaust survivors are like this; I'm just giving this as my anecdotal experience. My grandmother was scarred long before I was born and it echoed through her entire life and effected her relationships with everyone. My father is a wonderful man but he had a difficult upbringing that I believe effects the relationship he has with my mother, and says things to her that he doesn't mean, in the heat of anger, and I don't want to repeat this in my relationship with my husband and our soon-to-be-born child.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:10 AM on May 4, 2012

I realized I didn't actually answer your qeuestions though, so here goes.

So what's it like when you fight with your significant other, especially in the early stages of a relationship?

Hmm. Our fights in the early days were like a parody of our fights now. For example, we had a "big" fight about a month after we started dating that happened because we were arguing over who should drive home after an event, and I said something and my partner did not respond, and that infuriated me because I had once told her I hate the silent treatment, so I gave HER the silent treatment and we sat in silence for an hour on the way home, went to bed mad, and the next morning had a yelling/crying argument where she communicated to me that she had felt like I didn't trust her judgement and was just trying to not say something she would regret. Stupid and avoidable. That would never happen now.

Do you have recurring fights that never get resolved? Is that a sign that the relationship, however awesome, is doomed? Or am I being a perfectionist?

We went through a stage of fighting about the same thing - our communication styles - shortly after we got engaged. It kind of brought the tension to the surface, I guess. We have naturally different styles: she tends to try to ignore conflict to keep the peace until she snaps and I'm caught off guard, and I tend to be much more vocal and physical when I'm mad and let it blow over quickly, but it hurts her feelings a lot when I am mad or snippy. So we had a long process of figuring out how to deal with that. But I feel like we are in a really good place with that now and are better people for our mutual compromises.

I can see us having another recurring conflict at some point in our lives, though, and I don't think it means the relationship is doomed, though it certainly isn't fun when you're in that patch.

Do you have a rational process of conflict resolution, or do you work it out emotionally? How much crying/distance/etc. takes place? How do you know what is acceptable grumpiness?

Anything that can be resolved rationally never becomes a fight, in our case. We just discuss it until we find a solution. Fights, to me, are always emotional, because they're about hurt feelings. Our most recent fight happened a few weeks ago. This is what happened (with my partner's permission):

We were in the grocery store. My partner was pushing the cart. I noticed twice that she stopped in the middle of the aisle and was blocking someone's path. I HATE when that happens to me so I felt like she was being inconsiderate. The second time, I said with a snippy tone "Move the cart!" She made a facial expression that communicated, to me, that she thought I was being ridiculous for wanting to move the cart, when really she was trying to communicate that she didn't like my tone. We finished our shopping, ignoring that small interaction, but in the car on the way home I brought it up because I felt like she was still mad at me and I didn't think it was fair to be mad over such a little thing. Then we argued over what exactly I said, whether I had a snippy tone (I was just being stubborn and couldn't admit it right away) and we both cried just a little bit out of emotion, and finally we resolved it by, I think, both being honest about what we had really been thinking and feeling, and I told her to tell me when it's my tone she doesn't like. Most of the time I don't even notice that I HAD a tone, but I am willing to apologize for it when it is pointed out.

So all in all, it usually takes 15 - 20 minutes to work out and we might cry a little, or pause for a few minutes to think individually. I am also really, really glad that this is all we have to fight about, and that I know we are completely on the same page when it comes to the big things.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2012

Husbunny and I don't fight and we don't argue. Sometimes Husbunny will be grumpy when I suggest that he do something that isn't on the Internet, but I ignore that, I know and he knows that we have expectations that occassionally, he has to do something he doesn't want to do.

I'm a first-born kid, he's an only kid, he does not have a natural, "share and consider others" viewpoint. He was spoiled rotten by his folks and he's the center of his universe. He knows it, and doesn't mind when I jokingly point out that while yes, he is the sun, those of us on earth need some consideration. I on the other hand have been "in charge" my whole life, so giving orders is something I do naturally.

The things that most couples argue about are Money, Sex and household responsibility.

Husbunny wants me to run the finances and is happy to take a weekly allowance for his Mountain Dew habit. Seriously, he has NO interest in what it costs to run our household, I've sent my sister all of our account information because if I get hit by a bus, he'd be clueless. Every so often I insist that he review what we've got, our debt and our savings. He humors me, he couldn't care less.

As for Sex, we joke about that regularly. Every so often I'll ask him if he's happy with our sex life (in a neutral atmosphere, like in bed watching The Simpsons) we'll discuss it for a few moments, and we're good.

The Household stuff, it helps to have an established division of labor, he's in charge of the cat box, I do cooking, shopping, recycling and garbage. I clean the upstairs, he cleans the downstairs.

For some reason he can't see dirt that I can see. I have relaxed my standards a bit, he's developed some.

So once you've covered the things that cause fights, you really don't have anything to fight about.

Just remember, you're grown people who love each other, why would you fight?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 AM on May 4, 2012

---> Oh, also, I tend to avoid typical fighting (yelling, mean comments, etc.)

That is a very good thing to avoid.

Yelling is something that we try hard not to do (though it happens occasionally in the heat of the moment). Yelling was very rare in either of our parents' (still happy) marriages.

And mean comments are NEVER OK in our marriage. I'm talking about a comment you make, knowing that its primary effect will be to cut the other person down. Of course we say things that end up being hurtful ("I can't believe you said I act like I don't care - that is so untrue and hurtful!"), but it should never, ever be the primary intent when you open your mouth. We have a 'no name-calling' rule, family-wide.

Those rules work for us. It has also really helped to learn our reconciliation styles over time. For me, as soon as the flare-up is over, I want extra hugs and cuddles and tenderness - even more than usual. My husband needs some time alone to recover his equilibrium - even if he's not mad anymore and we're both over it, he needs a quiet recovery period for 20 minutes or so. Realizing this has helped me avoid prolonging fights, since I no longer interpret his brief withdrawal as anger/rejection - I know it's the beginning of his path back.
posted by Ausamor at 6:34 AM on May 4, 2012

We also seem to have different styles in that he likes me to bring things up in the moment and I seem constitutionally incapable of doing that, preferring to wait until I have a list of examples and then say "Here are five times you did this!"

We totally have this problem (with bonus tendencies toward passive-aggressive sulking on my part), and one thing that's semi-worked is to develop a three-strikes system-- something small, but objectionable happens, and I just say, "strike one" and move on without comment, with the understanding that working up to strike three in a short period of time is probably going to result in an argument. It helps that we've already discussed most of the kinds of tiny things that tend to build up into an Objectionable Pattern over time (examples: sarcasm, random critical comments on how one partner is doing it wrong), so he generally recognizes immediately what the problem was and no further explanation/debate is needed.

I think part of the reason I tend to collect instances instead of mentioning things immediately is because no one example feels serious enough to have an argument over, even though in their totality, these things do affect one's feeling of safety/respect in the relationship. The nice thing about the strike system is that it gives one partner a way to track how the other is feeling, without necessitating a big knock-down drag-out sharing session over every teeny thing.
posted by Bardolph at 7:25 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

We fight sometimes, but I'd say they're usually pretty healthy. I think the biggest thing I've been learning is that we don't need to come to a resolution during a fight because it probably won't happen that way anyway.

Usually we argue for a little bit, then we leave each other alone for a while, then we come back later and one or both of us will appologize. Typically, by the time the appology has come along, we'll have digested what the other has said and it'll be a lot easier to come up with a compromise or solution. The whole process usually takes a few hours.
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2012

He's yelly, I'm sulky, so it basically goes one of two ways:

I'm sulking because I'm upset but don't want to tell him I'm upset. He knows I'm upset and tries to pry it out of me, and then he gets yelly, and I get more sulky, and he goes and games or goes for a drive, and comes back and apologizes for being yelly and we talk calmly about whatever's upsetting me.


He's yelly about some little thing but really he's upset about some big thing, and I sulk because he's yelly, and he goes and games or goes for a drive and comes back and apologizes for being yelly and we talk calmly about whatever's upsetting him.

I would say 80% of our fights are caused by "I thought you meant X when you said/didn't say Y." We're trying to get better at asking "What did you mean by that?" The other 20% are caused by stress (work, family) unrelated to the superficial upset at hand. We are trying to get better at addressing the real stress and overlooking the superficial things.
posted by desjardins at 9:23 AM on May 4, 2012

Mod note: This is a reply from an anonymous commenter.
Married relatively recently, together 12 years.
Yelling: NEVER
Raised voices: occasionally
Personal insults: NEVER
Throwing things, personal aggression: NEVER
Ignoring each other: never, unless we are officially taking a break from the discussion
Dramatic threats or statements: NEVER

Worst pitfall: tendency towards passive aggression when insulted

Reasons we argue: almost exclusively two petty recurring issues related to living together, almost never major life topics
How it ends: we agree that the thing we are fighting about is stupid, sulk on our own for a few minutes, then hug and it's over
How fights start: almost always because one of us is exhausted or very stressed

The worst part: neither of us can STAND feeling that the other thinks poorly of us as people; this causes virtually all secondary arguments-caused-by-arguments
The second worst part: re-hashing "who said what" 5 minutes ago, when we can't agree and both know it's useless but want to be right

Length of time: never more than a few hours, rarely more than 20 minutes
Frequency: once every month or two-ish
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:27 AM on May 4, 2012

In three months, I will have been married for 25 years and we will have been together for almost 30. Our relationship has experienced a fairly wide spectrum of fighting over those years. In the beginning, we almost never had fights because we so besotted with each other that we just ignored the annoying bits. We then migrated into a pattern where one of us would accumulate grudges until there was an explosive disagreement, a kind of catharsis and then we'd make up equally fervently. This almost always followed the pattern where my behavior provoked the angry reaction from her. This is in part due to the fact that I am more annoying and more likely to behave badly and in part because I was deeply against the very idea of fighting or even disagreeing at all. I felt like expressing my concerns threatened our relationship so I just internalized it. This was phenomenonally stupid, but I didn't realize it at the time. In trying to appease her and stop the fighting at almost all costs, I was failing to address the real issues and growing resentful over some of the things I felt weren't reciprical in our relationship. It was the low point of our relationship and to some extent of my life.

When I finally figured out that disagreements and hurt feelings didn't mean that the world was going to end and that I could hear the things that upset her (or tell her the things that upset me) and that the world wouldn't end, it transformed everything. It turns out that some of things I secretly feared she believed were foolish and unconnected to how she actually felt and vice versa. "Fighting" transformed into "explaining why we were upset/unhappy/hurt/emotional" and the process of explaining exactly what we felt and being certain that the other person really understood what the issues and feelings were literally changed my life. It turned out that I was able to hear the things that were most troubling to her and by understanding them, repair everything that I had broken over the years and eliminate long-established patterns of aggrivating and fighting each other. It wasn't especially easy to do -- I had to learn to not argue when the things she was feeling were so clearly based on misunderstandings of fact or logic, which was difficult for me. I had to learn not to allow things that could be interpreted as criticisms of me sound like that and just hear what she felt without judging it. But the payoff of learning to work through our disagreements and differences in a loving and supportive way has honestly been the most productive change I've ever made. I wish someone could have taken the 25 year old me and taught me this stuff so I wouldn't have been such a dumb-ass for so long.

It turns out that once you are able to really get the other person to express how they think and feel and are able to express genuine sympathy and concern for their well-being and happiness (and vice versa), you can almost always work out the rest of the details. Some arenas still require compromise, but you can do it with open eyes and understanding and respect for what the other person is giving up for you. Some areas are painful, like learning about how much things I did hurt her. Understanding her pain completely changed the dialog from "your behavior is terrible / no I'm doing something completely reasonable" to "you are causing me so much pain / holy shit, I never meant to harm you -- I can change" It probably took a couple of years to get our shit together, but we're so much stronger now I can hardly remember who we were back then. It isn't perfect -- sometimes we forget to put the time in to really unload what we are feeling on a regular basis (which is critical, IMO) and we still do better when the issue spawns from her emotional reactions. When I'm the one with an issue, I'm worse at expressing and explaining it and she's worse at drawing it out -- but we're all works in progress.

I hope some of this makes sense to my younger readers and doesn't just sound like the old trite "communication is everything" because I really imagine that if I could have learned this 25 years ago, I'd have lived a much happier life. If I had to sum it up in one sound bite it would be: let the person who is most upset express their feelings completely, as long as it takes; don't argue, don't defend yourself, don't try to problem solve, just try with all your heart to understand. Switch places and repeat. Then problem solve. A shockingly high percentage of the time, you don't even have to problem solve once you both really understand where the other is coming from.
posted by Lame_username at 9:54 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]





M: I'M OK!


M: OK!


posted by Blasdelb at 10:42 AM on May 4, 2012 [10 favorites]

I wish "Blasdelb and M" was a TV show. I would watch it every time it came on the air.

"Sidhedevil and LMH" is a much less amusing show. Here is today's episode:

LMH: How come you haven't made hotel reservations for Toledo? I asked you to do that a week ago, grr grr.

Sidhedevil: Whoops, you're right. I will do that right now!

::45 seconds later::

Sidhedevil: Hotel reservation achievement unlocked!

LMH: Thank you, sweetie, you are the best.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I then try to address the general issue (not the specific example in the moment, but a general pattern of things that bother me about the other person).

Oh, please don't do this if you can avoid it. I think it's toxic, and I had to address that with my husband, who has done it and, initially in our relationship, seemed to think that that's how everybody fights. We got much better at fighting once I convinced him that if I was angry or upset, it was about a specific incident, rather than him as a person--i.e., I wasn't attacking him, I was trying to address the situation. Stick with the moment if you can--if you're hoarding about a general pattern of behavior there's all the more chance that your SO will get paranoid, or feel like you're trying to build up an arsenal against him, or building up a case to end your relationship (I dealt with all of this from my husband within the first year or so, and then it got better).

Also, if you stew and then explode and bring up a lot of stuff from the past, there's a good chance that the other person will have absolutely no memory of those things and that makes it harder to do anything about them, make reparations, etc. My husband didn't tell me about something he was upset about at the time, and it festered for MONTHS, and by the time he finally got it out, I couldn't remember the incident at all and couldn't explain myself or apologize accurately. (I strongly suspect that what he saw and interpreted one way was not at all meant that way, and I would have loved to get that out and dealt with it immediately so I could absolutely confirm that--but I had no memory of doing it so I couldn't really explain what was going on in my head, or on my face at the time.)

How couples handle conflict in general can be a huge challenge--you can see from what I'm saying that I'd rather get something out and deal with it right away so it isn't pervading the entire space between us, but he often really needs to get away and get some distance. I think it's useful that we know this about each other and can bring it to bear when necessary--although it created a really funny situation once when we were both very clearly trying to do what the other one wanted and couldn't quite clear the air because we were trying so hard. We both realized that that was the case and started laughing--I think that fight ended quite well because we could sincerely tell that we were trying to do right by each other.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:53 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been with my partner for 11 years and we never fight or argue. Actually, that is a mild over-statement: we did fight once, 10 years ago. It was over something silly, and the fight itself didn't lead to some grand reconciliation that made the process worth it. So we have never fought since. I don't know how or why but my best guesses are neither of us like conflict or drama, we're very rational people, and we are exceedingly compatible.
posted by tr0ubley at 2:21 PM on May 4, 2012

I also think, especially early in a relationship (when you're still hashing through your communication styles), that it's a good sign when you notice each other learning from the fights and trying to accommodate the wishes or needs of the other. It shows awareness and care for the other person, and probably indicates that you can keep going in a positive direction with recurring issues or conflicts. It's like: let's say the first time Dan and Pat have a real fight over something, Pat says, "Dan! I'm upset! Why on earth did you do X?" and Dan's response is "GRAR GRAR DEFENSIVE GRAR!"

In a healthy relationship, you're probably more likely to see Pat coming back to ask Dan why he's being defensive, and to clarify why X is an issue, followed by Dan saying, "you know, I'm sorry. I just felt put on the spot, which made me defensive. But I really just meant to do Y when I did X." Or something.

Then, months down the road, when X pops up again, Pat might say, "Hey, I noticed X. Can we talk about it? It's okay if we talk later tonight, though." And then Dan, instead of saying GRAR, might say, "It's okay. I'm glad you brought it up. I meant to do Y when I did X, but bla bla bla."

The fact that they're both trying to work off of what happened last time (with Terry giving Dan more time/space to approach the conversation, and Dan working not to jump into immediate defensiveness), is a good thing, even if X doesn't get resolved for a long, long time. But I've seen people stay stuck in "X! Now!" followed by "DEFENSIVE! GRAR!" for years and years. And that seems to be very wearing on them.
posted by vivid postcard at 2:49 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, snap! And by Terry, I mean Pat!
posted by vivid postcard at 3:07 PM on May 4, 2012

Wow these comments are making me feel insecure about my relationship. But actually my relationship is very close and loving. I would say we do fight but we don't argue - that is, we really have the same values and priorities about pretty much everything, so we both agree about things, but that doesn't mean one of us doesn't sometimes do or say something that annoys or upsets the other person.

I have a very stressful job so sometimes I think I overreact. Like, our fights are always about things that in retrospect seem minor but have some resonance with other stressors in my life.

I tend to have all my feelings up front in a big rush, then I get upset. Sometimes I raise my voice. My partner sometimes freaks out about strong emotions because he is a very level person emotionally and if my emotions get too strong he gets overwhelmed. So then sometimes he doesn't know what to say to respond to me when I get upset, and then I get more upset because I feel like he isn't hearing me. So then I repeat myself a lot for about ten minutes and feel awful, and then gradually he figures it out. And then the fight is usually over within about five minutes. Usually we can joke again once I am over the hump of being upset and then the conversation becomes more easygoing.

When he is upset with me about something it usually goes a lot easier - I usually know what to say to reassure him pretty quickly - also, he is just a really easygoing person.

I think we have had fights that we have repeated over and over again but over time we learn the pattern of what upsets the other person and we make small progress to deal with it. It doesn't feel intractable.

My parents fought terribly and unproductively for about a decade of my younger life so I have a lot of bad patterning about conflict that I am trying to get over. It's not easy but one good thing for us is that we are both really committed to talking about our feelings.

By the end of any fight I always feel better - there is never any lingering resentment.

Things we don't do - we never call each other mean names. We don't hold grudges. We don't go to bed mad - I know some people find it easier to work things out with a fresh start in the morning but because my parents had so many fights that they never resolved it makes me feel really insecure if a fight doesn't get resolved right away.
posted by mai at 4:40 PM on May 4, 2012

The mister and I have been together over 12 years. We don't fight. Really. We may have a disagreement now and then, but we talk it out (no raised voices, ever). This happens maybe once or twice a year. The only thing we've agreed to disagree on is that I want another dog. He says no. And he's probably right, dammit.

From what I've read here at Mefi and elsewhere, I think we must be extraordinarily compatible.
posted by deborah at 1:15 PM on May 5, 2012

I know it varies, but for me personally the big thing was learning not to let things stew and boil up in resentment over time. That meant being willing--both of us--to create an environment where we can decompress immediately in a lighthearted but heard kind of way, and don't feel like we're overreacting because we know it's a preventative measure against death by a thousand silent emotional papercuts.. You know--"hey, you've been so busy lately and I totally understand why but I'm feeling estranged and it's bumming me out, is there something we can brainstorm to tide me over?" or "dude, I just got home from work and I'm exhausted and the house is a disaster, I can't deal" etc. I know myself well enough now to know my default setting is to feel like I'm being stupid or naggy or bitchy so I won't say anything, then I will just resent for months as these little things pile up, and by the time it comes out I'm so fed up I've kind of...switched off, you know? Like. Emotionally become distant, feel like I need to withhold my true self because I'm angry but also because I get used to repressing what's really on my mind. Now, actively countering this impulse has only become doable because my partner and I have hashed this all out, are both dedicated to communicating regularly and honestly with each other, and because my partner is excellent at not judging me. There's a lot going on with that dynamic, but all I know is without getting it in place it always just felt too easy (in previous relationships) to get to a point where we'd both sort of emotionally went our own ways by the time "fighting" started.
posted by ifjuly at 12:30 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]



B: ...
M: ...
M: ...
posted by Blasdelb at 8:56 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My parter and I have been close friends for four years, together romantically for the past year. We had occasional "fights" when we were friends, and our fighting style hasn't changed at all (except for the making up process) since we've become romantically involved. They are always short and rarely about anything acutally important since if anything actually is important we both talk it out WAY BEFORE it can become a fight. Sending very very long emails back and forth where we clearly lay out what we're thinking is how we handle big issues. Removes the emotion, allows careful planning of what you're trying to say, allows for complete thoughts to be communicated before the other replies, etc. Definitely works for us. So no big fights ever had, and the longest one was probably an hour.

Past fight topics include:
- whether a joke was funny or not
- one person talking for too long about how hungry they are and about the different foods they are craving but never actually getting anything to eat.
- whether we need curtains in the bedroom and if they allow for air circulation
- irritation over having made delicious steak for supper instead of the planned delicious salmon
- having celery spoil in the fridge because it was 'hidden' in the crisper drawer
- having promised to do the dishes before the other gets home, but still be doing them when they arrive.

We also have a statute of limitations on bonehead comments/moves. If one of us does something stupid that is a little upsetting to the other (ie. my partner made fun of the size of my feet recently), once the issue has been discussed and forgiven/resolved, it can only be brought up for seven days following, even if it is just in jest. We aren't allowed to dredge up past things because nothing good can come of that.
posted by gwenlister at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2012

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