Have you ever been in a tiny tiff with your partner that all of a sudden turns into a giant blowup? The shift in energy is palpable. If so, then you already instinctively know the difference between fighting and arguing — it just feels different. The stakes are different, the purpose is different, and the way you feel afterward is very different. But why? What separates two things that can outwardly appear similar, but are, in reality, so very different? As it turns out, if you feel like fighting and arguing aren't the same thing, you're right. One definitely bodes better for the health and longevity of your relationship, so knowing the difference is really important if you want your relationship to both last, and be a healthy one for both you and your partner.
To help define the difference between an argument and a fight, I turned to the experts: Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, and Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, to get their take on how to tell a fight and an argument apart. They also explained what it means for your relationship if you fight more frequently than you argue, and what you can do to change it. Here's what they had to say.
If you are unclear about whether or not you and your partner are fighting or arguing, Dr. Brown says the key is to ask yourself what your agenda is. “You are arguing if both of you actually want to hear what your partner has to say; when you care enough about each other to want to understand what your partner is saying; and that you want to make sure at the end of the argument that both of you are in a better place to get your needs met,” he explains. However, if you are focused on scoring points in order to “win” or hit below the belt, not only are you fighting, but the situation is “becoming toxic,” he warns. “Fighting tends to be more immature and narcissistic by nature," Dr. Brown adds. "Fights tend to last a long time and this may mean that your relationship is more about winning than being close.”
Is this hitting close to home? The good news, Dorell says, is that there's something you can do about it — but it will take a willingness to dig deeper. “Usually, when you find yourself fighting often, there is always a deeper issue that isn't being dealt with,” she explains. “Often, it has to do with feeling hurt, under-appreciated, [or] resentful.” To help stop things from escalating further, Dorell says you need to speak up about how you're feeling and allow your partner to do the same. The earlier the better, in fact. “Communicating this early on can prevent unnecessary drama and fighting. Arguing is something all couples do now and then, but the key is knowing when you are attaching so tightly to needing to be right versus finding peace in your relationship and creating a healthy space for both to communicate, even if you disagree.”
While there is likely no way to avoid conflict entirely, the key, the experts agree, is to do so in a healthy and productive way: by placing the focus on resolving the issue rather than resorting to attacking one another. After all, even if you “win” a fight, you could end up losing in the long run.