Lots of things about being in a real, serious relationship scare me. But the thing that probably terrifies me most? The fighting.
Even the best couples I know fight. Arguing seems to be a normal part of adult relationships. The problem here is that I don't like to fight. In fact, I would go so far as to say I hate it.
Remember that episode of “Friends” where Chandler and Monica get in their first disagreement? Chandler freaks out and, as a result, f*cks up big time by accusing Monica of only caring about babies and marriage. Monica gets (understandably) pissed, so Chandler assumes they broke up, freaks out even more and decides the only way to recover is by proposing to her. Monica has to explain to him that they didn't break up at all -- they'd just gotten into a fight.
If you live under a rock and have never seen this episode, I'm not sorry for the long overdue spoiler, and you're welcome for the comprehensive recap.
Anyway, in this situation I would be the Chandler. I don't get the whole fighting and bouncing back thing. How do you know if it's a normal argument or a bad one? Isn't all fighting the bad kind? I had no idea. So, I went to my all-time favorite marriage and family therapist, Emmalee Bierly, MFT, for answers.
Is it ever worth staying in a relationship when you're constantly fighting?
When debating this, Emmalee encourages you to ask yourself one question: "If nothing changes in this relationship, the way it is right now, would I be happy in this for the rest of my life?" If your answer is a hard “hell no,” then there's your answer. If you fall more along the lines of a maybe, Emmalee warns “we can't actually change anyone, and change only works [if it's from] both sides.”
Emmalee says the key piece of advice here is:
“If you figure you can compromise and pick your battles and your partner is willing to do the same, that's the key.”
But beware of entering what Emmalee refers to as an “unspoken contract":
“In your head, you think something will change over time. You think that when you get engaged, your partner will chill out and stop drinking so much. You will most likely be sadly disappointed.”
If you're able to openly communicate your needs and concerns to your partner who's willing to work on change, then you're looking at a nice, healthy relationship.
Is there such a thing as a “healthy” fight?
If you and your boo are fighting a lot, don't fret too much. When asked whether there's such a thing as a healthy fight, Emmalee was quick to reassure me that fights are perfectly normal. She explains:
"Having a healthy relationship does not mean zero conflict, it means having better communication skills to work through that conflict."
So what does that mean? Well, tou and your partner could engage in one big, nasty fight and that, my friends, is a red flag, no matter how infrequently it happens. On the other hand, the two of you could bicker throughout the week and still maintain positive feelings for each other. That is totally OK.
Emmalee puts it simply:
"It's less about the quantity and more about the quality of the fight."
How can you tell if fights actually mean something or if they're brought about by boredom?
Sometimes, people fight because they're bored. You've got nothing better to do, so you pick on the people closest to you -- namely, the person you're in a relationship with.
But how can you tell the difference? How do you know if these fights signify something deeper?
Emmalee encourages you to take some time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself questions like: "Am I looking outside of this relationship at other people?" "Am I thinking about ending the relationship?" "Do I think I'd be happier alone?" Finally, ask, "Am I bored in this relationship or am I bored with myself?" That last one's the biggie here.
"Self-love has to come first and if you are unhappy in your job, friendships and environment, most likely that will filter into your relationship. Check yourself with where you're at, independent of your relationship, to give you a better look at where you're at in your relationship."
What sort of relationship is worth fighting for?
According to Emmalee, people often mistakenly let their loyalty and history with another person cloud their judgment. Loyalty is a great quality, but it can be detrimental when it's your sole reasoning for staying in a relationship that makes you feel drained.
On the flip side, sometimes we find ourselves in relationships with people who are our complete opposites. Relationships between people who have different values may have more conflict in them than others, but don't be discouraged by that.
"If you feel like you are able to work through that conflict or at least come out heard [by] and connected to your partner -- that is what it's really all about."
But, OK, if we needed just one rule of thumb here, what sort of relationship is worth it? She says:
"A relationship where you feel heard, fulfilled, and supportive."
Emmalee's all-time best piece of advice for people in relationships? Maintain the ability to fall in love over and over again through all your ups and downs together.
“In every relationship, there are times that you feel distant and disconnected, especially in times of stress or transition, but the ability to come together and re-learn about each other and feel that warmth toward your partner, that is what makes a happy and content relationship.”
I guess now I just gotta find someone to fall in love with in the first place.