Opinion | Ever met a couple who doesn’t fight?
Whatever your fighting strategy and your preferred way to fix the feud, it’s time to embrace this universal truth and not take your arguments so seriously
One of the most exhausting movies I’ve ever seen is 2006’s The Break-Up, pretty much a real time disintegration of a relationship, one tedious fight at a time. One early fight, for example, starts off with an innocuous argument and explodes into a climactic, “we’re done”.
He: “You said that you don’t like flowers, I’m supposed to take that to mean you do like flowers?”
She: “...it’s not about the flowers, it’s not about the dishes…how many times do I have to drop hints about the ballet?”
He: “…I hate the goddamn ballet….”
She: “It’s not about you loving the ballet, Gary. It’s about the person that you love loves the ballet….We don’t go anywhere together!”
He: “We just went to Ann Arbour together.”
She: “To the Michigan-Notre Dame game? You think screaming, drunk kids…that’s fun for me? …How do you show up for me?”
He: “All I ask, Brooke, is you show a little bit of appreciation…instead of being attacked by questions and nagged the whole damn time.”
She: “You think that I nag you?”
He: “That’s all you do. All you do is nag me…. Nothing I ever do is ever good enough…I just want to be left the hell alone.”
She: “Really? Is that what you want Gary…fine, great, do whatever the hell you want. You leave your socks all over this house, dress like a pig, play your stupid ass video game, I don’t care, I’m done. I’m done, I don’t deserve this.”
Psychologists would agree that the above exchange ticks all the boxes for how not to fight: Don’t let things build up, don’t globalize the issue, slow things down, don’t raise your voice, don’t issue ultimatums. “Never go in a direction that signals finality—I want to leave you, I want a divorce,” says Simran Mangharam, co-founder of Floh, a multi-city community of 7,000 singles. “Don’t go to sleep without resolving things remains the best principle to follow when you fight. Set these basics in place at the start of a relationship,” she adds.
While the on-screen conversation emphasizes the cliche that men and women are essentially incompatible, by now it’s clear to many experts that the future of traditional relationships is in at least as much jeopardy as that of the print newspaper.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of research on the anatomy of couple fights. While most agree that sex, money and children are key areas of conflict (even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie couldn’t withstand the last one), best-selling author and psychologist Dr John Gottman responds with one word when people ask him to share the number one reason couples fight: “Nothing”. In other words, trivial or inconsequential things.
Until we added a daughter to our family, that’s exactly what we fought about—nothing. The husband is fond of telling people how I used to storm out of the house in the early years of marriage but neither of us can remember what we argued about. Now, most of our conflicts centre around parenting. It turns out that two people in sync with each other about “big things” like politics, money, parents, life goals, can differ dramatically on how to parent an eight-year-old.
What’s your fighting style? Do you yell, or do you talk slowly and menacingly? Do you collapse in a puddle of tears or act like you couldn’t care less? Are you slow burn or are you fast and furious? Do you fire accusations like a child who hasn’t yet grasped the power of hurtful words? Or are you the type who lets it all out, one slay-worthy barb after another, getting cleverer and meaner as you warm up, knowing exactly the impact your words are having, dismissing the little voice that urges, “Stop, you don’t mean any of this”. Maybe you’re the holier than thou type, always playing the martyr, pointing out lucidly how you are the one who is always wronged. Or do you bicker non-stop like siblings, so much so that any witnesses to your endless argument want to separate you physically? Do you wait till you’ve got your partner alone, or do you prefer to give it off in public? Do you rage or do you sulk?
Most importantly, do you fight face-to-face or are you a casualty of the digital age? “The WhatsApp blue tick has made it to lots of therapy sessions,” says psychologist Sonali Gupta. “A fight can escalate if a message is seen and not responded to. ‘You were online and you didn’t respond to me’ is a common complaint.” Gupta says because there’s no tonality on WhatsApp, fights can escalate quicker. “Also, it becomes a way not to discuss an issue more deeply. You say ‘...but we discussed it on WhatsApp’.”
Bitter fighting can wreak havoc on your health though studies have also shown that speaking up is key for any long-term relationship. “Fights can bring you closer if you resolve them properly,” says Mangharam. “At least when you fight, you know there’s a spark. There are some couples who don’t even bother to fight; they have become comatose.”
The verdict is out on makeup sex as a way to resolve a fight. “Sex comes with its own huge power dynamic,” says Gupta. “I don’t think anything can make up for anything. You have to talk your way through to resolution.”
I’ve yet to meet a couple that doesn’t fight (please tweet at me if you know one). Whatever your fighting strategy and your preferred way to fix the feud, it’s time to embrace this universal truth and not take your arguments so seriously. Happy fighting—I guess.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.
She tweets at @priyaramani
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