Fighting can throw even the strongest couples into a tailspin.
It can range from petty criticisms to passive aggressive notes to full-blown screaming, making it difficult to navigate what's really going on amongst all the chaos.
Sometimes, a fight is just a fight. But other times, it's a flashing neon sign saying you need to BREAK UP!
But, how can the average Joe and Jane tell the difference?
I spoke with NYC psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Niloo Dardashti, who shed some light on combative relationship behavior.
To begin, not all fighting is bad, according to Dardashti. (Phew!)
This is a common misconception I certainly had when I first ventured into the dating world. I would live in fear of the first argument, wondering if it was going to completely destroy our relationship or reveal we are actually terrible for each other.
However, Dardashti explains, "Fighting can be healthy as long as you can effectively communicate and feel heard afterwards."
Fighting can be healthy as long as you can effectively communicate and feel heard afterwards.
There are two important components to a fight: the content and the process.
The content refers to what you are actually arguing about (like plans for the weekend or who cleaned the dishes last), and the process is what lies underneath the content (i.e. a general theme like feeling unvalidated, unheard or unimportant).
If you're in a fight and ready to run for the hills, Dardashti suggests identifying the process first by using this strategy: Sit down, make eye contact and give one another time to speak.
When your partner is done, summarize and repeat what you heard back to them to ensure you're on the same page.
"Listening, summarizing and validating does not necessarily mean you are agreeing with your partner. It is a way to effectively communicate and give the other person the feeling that they're being heard," says Dardashti. "One of the most important things in a relationship is to feel mirrored."
Essentially, the best way to identify if a fight is just a fight is if both parties display a willingness to make it work. If an effort is being made on both sides, it's not time to throw in the towel just yet.
She adds, "A couple that never fights is either extraordinarily blessed or they're not really addressing things entirely."
A couple that never fights is either extraordinarily blessed or they're not really addressing things entirely.
Dardashti says if the "sit, listen and summarize" strategy doesn't help you figure out what's really causing the fight, look into couples therapy with a professional to help break it down. And if THAT doesn't work, then it may be worth taking a second (or third or fourth) look at your relationship.
Some red flags that signal two people are just bad for each other, or that a fight is no longer "just a fight," may seem obvious. Violence, verbal or physical abuse, name calling and insults are all symptomatic of a relationship gone bad.
But if there is a chronic argument that keeps returning and you can never get anywhere on it together, it might just be the silver bullet to your partnership.
To determine whether chronic arguments are grounds for a breakup, Dardashti suggests asking yourself, "Do I feel worse when I am with this person?" If you're spending more time upset, sad and angry than you do happy and satisfied, you can safely follow that blinking arrow out the door (and the relationship.)
Ask yourself the question, 'Do I feel worse when I'm with this person?'
In the end, if you find yourself returning to the same fight with no progress, resolution or change, and you both have exhausted your options, it could be time to reevaluate if you're happy together at all.
BUT!, if you both are willing to work through an argument, the relationship is still worth fighting for. (Get it?)