If you have been fighting with your partner, you might be asking yourself, “why do we fight all the time? or “why are we fighting over the same little things all the time?” On a daily basis, couples contact me because they are concerned about how often they fight and have many fears about how often they miscommunicate.

During the honeymoon phase in relationships, most couples feel happy and have many positive memories. As the relationship gets more serious, couples’ differences seem to rear their ugly heads. Long loving glances are replaced by harsh glares and dagger eyes.

How Often Do Couples Fight?

In relationships, you want to have more positive experiences with your partner than negative ones. Don’t worry, you don’t need to start counting. For most people it is obvious when the negative ones outweigh the positives. They feel more drained and exhausted than happy and excited to talk to each other. The number of times partners fight will vary greatly among each relationship.

What Is The Number One Thing Couples Fight About?

The Gottman’s found in their research with couples that the #1 thing that couples fight about is nothing. What that means for you is to start noticing if you are fighting about lots of little issues such as which restaurant you want to go to tonight or if you should eat at 6pm versus 6:30pm. Many fights are due to minor misunderstandings and miscommunications.

How Much Fighting Is Too Often?

Fighting “too often” is a matter of perspective and personal preference frequently created by how we were raised. Some of my couples never saw their parents fight and think that one fight means it’s the end of the relationship. Other couples had parents that fought constantly, and now, they find themselves fighting constantly. A third group of couples had parents that fought a lot and intentionally told themselves they would never want to repeat their parents’ patterns. However, they find themselves fighting just like their parents.

How Long Do Fights Last In a Relationship?

I find that the shorter my clients fight, the healthier the relationship is. Dr. Stan Tatkin advises couples not to fight for longer than 15 minutes. He states that partners should pause after about 15 minutes, take a break, and then revisit the conversation.

In Dr. John Gottman’s and Dr. Robert Levenson’s research, they found couples who split up tended to take “ a lot longer to address an argument,” meaning each partner was left to stew for days after a disagreement happened.

Conversely, couples who stayed married were more likely to “discuss their argument right after it happened”. They found the longer couples don’t discuss what’s bothering them and seek to resolve the issue, resentments build up and create more long term challenges for couples.

What Does It Mean When Couples Fight?

Couples fight for a whole host of reasons and to conjecture why people fight is almost impossible. However, most couples fight about personality differences, preferences and perspectives. They can learn, however, how to navigate and create win-win conversations despite these differences.

According to the Gottman research, “both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. This leaves 91% of our relational interactions ripe for miscommunication”. Therefore, when couples fight they are usually not present with their partner and able to address the topic at hand.

Should You Be Concerned?

I’m very concerned when a couple shares that during an argument they are physical-hitting, pushing, or shoving and throwing things. If that is the case, I advise the couple to disengage from each other and get help immediately.

I’m also concerned when partners are dismissive or contemptuous towards each other. Dismissiveness is sometimes a first response due to surprise, personal fears or uncertainty about how to respond to the situation. If the dismissive partner returns to the conversation within a few hours, takes responsibility for their denial of the issue, and is willing to discuss concerns, this indicates an opening to try to resolve the issue at that time. If the issue cannot be resolved within a short amount of time, outside help may be considered.

Contempt is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of a relationship that Dr. Gottman describes as interrupting, correcting, making fun or calling the other partner names (such as Stupid or Witch). If the partner is continually dismissive or contemptuous, then I think the couple has a larger problem to address, and counseling is definitely warranted.

Every couple needs to determine their threshold for the level of intensity and frequency of fights. If you think that fighting is an issue in your relationship, I encourage you to speak to your partner. Sometimes when partners address this topic directly, they can come to a resolution and fix this problem.

If you are fighting over really big issues or about the same topic over and over again feeling like you are beating a dead horse, you may need outside assistance to address the reasons for the fighting, how to fight fair, and how to communicate effectively.

Is Your Relationship Over If You Need Therapy Because You Fight Too Much?

Most couples enter therapy stating that they are fighting and can’t resolve their arguments. At the end of therapy, most of my couples are very happy that they learned how to resolve their differences. They do this by learning how to talk through a problem and work as a team, rather than 2 people in a boxing ring wondering who is going to be standing at the end of the fight (figuratively not literally). Frequently, couples just don’t have the tools and skills to work out their issues.

Whether they never had a role model growing up that showed how to fight effectively or just is not sure how to discuss their needs and wants, after learning effective communication skills they feel heard, understood and validated by their partner. Often couples don’t realize that it only takes a little bit of effort to learn how to listen and communicate more effectively.

We can learn how to understand the reasons for our fighting and what to do about it. You can decide whether it should be a concern or you can focus on other aspects of life.  An enduring, peaceful, loving and secure relationship is not a dream, but can be your reality.

Relationships are so amazing, yet so difficult because of our differences. If you are struggling, then I can help you rediscover the happiness in your relationship.

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a licensed counselor in the state of Maryland. She works with couples to help them reduce stress and conflict in their relationships. If you need support to get things back on track, reach out to Lisa for a 30 minute Free private consultation today.

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