Do You Fight Too Much With Your Boyfriend Or Girlfriend? Here's How To Tell
If you've ever gotten into a cycle of fighting a bunch with your partner, you know how exhausting it can be. Hours get wasted on ugly-crying, or throwing and receiving verbal jabs. It's a huge suck of emotional and physical energy — especially when there are bills to pay, schoolwork to finish, and a whole life you've got to live outside of your SO. If you do find yourself bickering with bae a lot, you might be asking yourself: Do you fight too much with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Yes, some conflict in relationships is healthy and to be expected. That's how you and your partner can solve problems together. And realistically, once you graduate from the honeymoon phase, you will argue with your partner every now and then. That's perfectly OK.
But there a comes a point where the arguing feels like a lot. Sometimes, it's hard to tell if you're just hitting a rough patch or if you're now finding out you and your partner are just incompatible. Either way, it sucks. The best way to start moving forward, however, is to assess the root of all your arguments, whether there's resolution in sight, and how you can proceed from there. Here are some key signs that you and your partner are fighting too much, and what you can do about it.
The "5 to 1" ratio isn't there
As stated before, a little bit of conflict is healthy. If you or your SO typically avoid conflict at all costs, that tendency can prevent you two from knowing what the other needs and from actually being intimate. At the same time, says James Guay, a psychotherapist specializing in high-conflict couples, "High-conflict relationships also miss out on the greater intimacy that comes with vulnerability, self-reflection, and collaboration."
A really helpful tidbit to remember when you're fighting with your partner is the "Five to One" ratio. It comes from research by psychologist Dr. John Gottman (who studied marital stability and divorce for 40 years). He found that for each negative conflict interaction between partners, five or more positive interactions existed between them in happy and stable relationships.
So a quick way to tell if you're fighting too much is to do the math: In a week, how many positive interactions do you have with your partner? How many negative ones? The first step to making your relationship feel less exhausting and chaotic is to crunch the numbers and see how you two can cultivate more positive interactions.
Your partner constantly shuts down to silence you
When it comes to signs that you and your partner are fighting too much, Guay says it's more about how you're fighting than what the fight is about. Another key finding from Gottman is the "Four Horsemen" of fighting — a reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of them is when your partner is frequently "stonewalling" you or shutting down key conversations. If you're frequently having fights with bae where they cut you off (so you can't get a word in), that's a red flag.
Although stonewalling and the other three behaviors are characterized as apocalyptic, it doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. If your partner continually shuts hard conversations down, Guay recommends taking a 20-minute time out during arguments. "Self-soothe and distract yourself, so that you can come back to the conflict when you have more of a level head," Guay says.
Fights often revolve around who you are as people
Another horseman is criticism. If you or your partner are constantly digging into each others' looks, laughs, or personality quirks — instead, of say, bickering about who pays for dates and when — then you need to keep a closer eye on your arguments.
When it comes to criticism, make sure you're doing it constructively. Start conflict gently and lead with vulnerability, Guay says. Use “I” statements and make requests instead of demands. This can steer the two of you back on track to actually finding resolution for fights.
Sarcasm and low blows are usually in the mix
There's also the horseman of contempt. This can look like frequently not giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Also, if you or your partner frequently roll eyes, mock each other, useful harmful sarcasm, or insult each other during arguments, then your incessant fighting is probably becoming toxic at this point.
It's important to ask yourself and your partner what it is you like about the other person, when dealing with constant contempt. Pivot from negativity to "focusing on gratitude for what your relationship brings," Guay says.
One partner's defense is always a drag of the other person
And last but not least, there's the horseman of defensiveness or playing the blame game. The solution is simple, but always easier said than done: "[Take] responsibility for your impact on your partner and for any areas you could have done things better, including an apology if needed," Guay says. In other words, just own up and say you're sorry!
A good, sincere apology will consist of three things. One, the words "I'm sorry" to signal clearly that you're apologizing. Two, acknowledging where you went wrong — if you say "I'm sorry that you...," you're back to square one of playing the blame game. And three, conclude by asking your partner what you can do to make things right.
What if we can't stop fighting?
The fact that you're fighting constantly — with an extra helping of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, or tendency to shut down — could just indicate mean you're going through a rough patch. If you still feel committed to your SO, you trust them, they bring out the best in you, and you feel like your "truest self" around them, these are solid indicators you two can make it through this.
Still, if you employ all the above solutions and nothing seems to work, you might want to weigh other conflicts on the table that could signal it's time to break up. Be honest with yourself and your partner, and ask:
- Has too much damage or hurt been done in this relationship, to the point where it all feels impossible to overcome?
- Are our core values (i.e. religion, politics, views on monogamy, or whether we want kids) too disparate?
- Is one person putting in more work than the other?
- Does one or both of you just not have the capacity for a romantic relationship right now?
Even if the answer to one of these questions is "yes," you and your SO are still not doomed. Therapy with your partner or by yourself is always a worthy option if you have access to it. It can be helpful to have a neutral party (who happens to be trained in conflict resolution) know what's up, and help coach you and your partner through your seemingly endless rounds of arguments. Therapy can potentially bring you back from the brink of a breakup.
"I tell couples and triads who are unsure about their relationships that the work they do in relationship counseling can help them learn what they need, in order to not repeat the same patterns," Guay explains. Those patterns could be in his clients' current relationship or future ones. "It’s not just an investment to your current partner(s), but in yourself, to commit and experiment with doing things differently. This is about progress, not perfection."
At the end of the day, a vicious cycle of arguments with your partner can be scary and tiring. But approaching the situation with empathy, vulnerability, and honesty is the best way to move your relationship forward. The more you open up to your partner and confront the issues at stake, the more intimate you can be with them and the better off you'll be for it.