Are you fighting with your honey? Or maybe you aren’t fighting, but the tension is building along with the distance between you. If you fight about the same kinds of things over and over again, you’re not alone. Healthy couples fight––and it’s the sign of a healthy relationship to tussle and get things out in the open. Fighting doesn’t mean that something’s wrong; it means that something is surfacing that needs attention. A bigger problem is a lack of conflict, engagement, and fighting. However, whether you are fighting or avoiding fights, you need to learn to work through your conflict; and you can’t do that until you identify the deeper yearning or trigger underneath the fight––which, regardless of the surface topic, is really what the fight is about.
See if you can relate to the 6 common fights healthy couples have:
1. Up and down toilet seats and other domestic disputes. Petty squabbles and disagreements about chores, toilet seats, and feeling like an unappreciated Cinder(f)ella may seem superficial; but underneath, there are power and control struggles at unconscious levels in all relationships. This skirmishing serves a purpose, helping to resolve or at least expose issues that would otherwise eat away at your relationship. Chances are that under your anger over how your partner handles the laundry, leaves the toilet seat, or does fewer chores than you, there’s a deeper longing. Do you yearn to be heard, validated, affirmed, tended to, loved, or to matter? That may be what you are really fighting about.
2. Money––dueling over dollars. Financial feuds, whether about making money, spending it, using it the way you want it, managing it (or not)?are volatile topics for many couples. Money may be a valid concern, however, money is usually only the surface subject of the argument. Money is powerfully symbolic of many things depending on the individual. These fights often mask issues of self-worth, values, or a sense of security. They can stem from a desire to be appreciated, unmet desires such as keeping up with the Joneses, or hunger for social affirmation. We all want to be loved, and we easily make the mistake of equating enough money with enough love.
3. Sexual dissatisfaction. Do any of these sound familiar? "You are never in the mood!" "You’re always in the mood." "You’re just going through the motions." "You don’t find me attractive anymore." "You only touch me when you want sex." "You never initiate sex." Fights like this are common and are about more than sexual intimacy. Unlock these fights and you’ll find valuable information about how to have better intercourse in all ways, making the relationship, as well as the sex, better.
Adult sexual needs are often secondary to unmet developmental needs. We often have much younger, pre-sexual needs to be affirmed, seen, known, and cared about. Meeting these deeper needs often makes you feel much closer, which often leads to more satisfying sex. Rather than just using sex to get close, you express your closeness sexually. Getting to your submerged yearnings deepens your intimacy and takes the conversation beyond the number of times you do it weekly, which tends to go up when couples argue productively together without necessarily focusing on it or keeping score.
4. The blame game. Are you each looking to point the finger? Looking to find fault for a lousy vacation, a crummy restaurant choice, an obnoxious visitor overstaying her welcome, the argument itself––keeps you stuck in a lot of drama with no resolution. There’s a big difference between scapegoating and figuring out why something went wrong. The former is a vindictive activity while the latter is a learning exercise. Instead of assigning blame in arguments, focus instead on what it will take for you to be satisfied. Figure out what you’re so upset about, what went wrong, and how to change it now and in the future.
“Sorting through these battles to the issues underneath can be some of the most enlightening and productive fights you can have.”
5. You love [blank] more than me. "You love work/sports/shopping/Facebook/the kids... more than me" is the common theme of these battles. Whether you directly accuse, nag, demand, whine, or attack––"Put down your stupid iPhone, for God’s sake," "You spend more time golfing than you do with me," "Stop avoiding me" or "You’re never around when I need you"––it is often a payback or punishment directed against the one who "loves something more."
Rather than drive the couple to more closeness, these responses tend to drive couples farther apart. These fights have the right idea but the wrong expression. Healthy couples argue about why one is avoiding the other, either physically or emotionally, but your fight can’t get resolved if you make it about the ways you are avoiding. It’s far more effective to get to the bottom of the fight––the reason for avoidance––if you plan to work it through.
6. Family feuds. Family feuds happen in numerous ways, including fights about your in-laws’ irritating behaviors ("Your father drives me crazy!"), interference, ("If your mother butts in one more time, I’ll…"), and failure to deal with your parents as they treat your partner badly ("Your mother treats me like crap and you don’t do anything about it!").
Family feuds are tricky. Allegiances become confused and battle lines get drawn. Sorting through these battles to the issues underneath can be some of the most enlightening and productive fights you can have. Properly handled, they force you to grow up and become your own person, capable of developing allegiance, bonds, and love with each other. Psychologists refer to this as individuating, becoming your own person. As you do, you become more capable of deep intimacy with your spouse, creating a stronger bond and a solid core family with your partner.
Whether you are fighting over family, funds, or Facebook—the antidote is the same for healthy couples. You need to go underneath the fight to discover the deeper yearning that isn’t being met and learn the skills to address that directly. Armed with those tools, fights are always welcome because they provide great opportunities for getting closer.
Dr. Judith Wright is a relationship counselor and author of the upcoming book "The Heart of the Fight: A Couple’s Guide to 15 Common Fights, What They Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Closer." A media favorite, Dr. Judith has been called the "World’s Ultimate Expert" by "Woman’s World Magazine" and has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, The Today Show, in Marie Claire, Fitness Magazine, Health, Shape and many others. For more, visit judithwright.com.