Is Fighting In Public Bad For Your Relationship? Therapists Explain Why There’s No Simple Answer

Bangs can be a bad idea, getting back together with your ex can be even worse, and mixing hard alcohol with wine is possibly the worst of all — these are all lessons I've had to learn the hard way. Without a doubt, one of the tougher questions that arose while dating in my 20s was, is fighting in public bad for your relationship? Deep down I may have known the answer, but again, this wasn't an inquiry that could be satisfied with a simple yes or no response from someone else. It didn’t matter if my mom or my best friend in the world tried to warn me against such behavior — I wouldn’t have listened. Some things we just have to figure out by doing them and witnessing their disastrous consequences.

There are lessons that all of us must learn the hard way — particularly in regards to love. It may feel awkward, uncomfortable, and even frustrating. But fret not — those are just growing pains. They mean you’re maturing. You’re evolving. You’re making a mistake, brushing yourself off, and bouncing back a better person. Sure, learning through trial-and-error means you’ll likely have some regrets down the road. As my great-grandmother Eloise once told me in her Louisiana drawl, “If you don’t have regrets, you haven’t truly lived.” There are certain common missteps that we seem to need to make in our relationships before learning our lessons. The good news? By making these mistakes you’re putting yourself in a position to be a better partner going forward.

Fighting in public does some damage.

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It can happen so easily. One minute it’s a low-key disagreement in a public place, the next it’s spiraled into a full-blown fight. Fighting in public is something that can be extremely difficult to resist — it takes some serious self-control on both your and your partner’s part. Still, you may learn from experience that it’s well worth the effort to avoid.

Fighting is obviously a totally normal and healthy part of dating someone — in fact, depending on how you handle it, it can even make your relationship stronger. That said, licensed clinical social worker Melanie Shapiro says fighting in public is best avoided.

“Fighting in public threatens intimacy,” she explains. “Allowing outsiders to witness a fight can lead to more feelings of anger and resentment and when building on an already contentious issue, it can make the situation worse.”

Clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, Dr. Joshua Klapow, adds that having a public argument can be dangerous as it may lead to feelings of “embarrassment, humiliation, and resentment.” “There is a fine line between disagreements in public — which can be healthy — and arguments or fights in public, which can ruin a relationship. The key is keeping the disagreement from escalating into the argument and keeping an argument from escalating into a fight.”

If you find yourself in this situation and don’t know how to handle it, Dr. Klapow recommends letting your partner know you’re uncomfortable and would like to address this matter privately without counter-attacking them or embarrassing them for arguing in public.

Your self-esteem should come from within.

Michela Ravasio/Stocksy

You’ve probably heard it before: You have to love yourself before you can love someone else. While it’s easy to dismiss this as a cheesy cliché, there’s a lot of truth to the saying. Relying on your partner to make you feel good about yourself not only puts too much pressure on them, but it’s also risky.

“If we look to our partner to build up our esteem it can easily feel like they can take it away,” says Shapiro. “Our partners’ respect and adoration should confirm what we already know and believe.”

In other words: your self-esteem needs to come from within, not externally from your romantic relationships. Sometimes we have to learn this the hard way. Being single for the first time in years, for example, can bring to light some insecurities that you haven’t dealt with, or reinforce just how much you have depended on your relationship to make you feel happy and fulfilled. Fortunately, it’s never too late to seek out other ways to boost your self-esteem outside of having a romantic partner — pursuing new hobbies, volunteering, setting and working toward professional goals, for example, may all help to build you up.

The more secure you feel in yourself, the less likely you'll find yourself picking fights in public that require your partner to validate you or quell your unfounded fears. For example, if you find that arguments tend to escalate in public with your SO because you're irrationally worried that they're going to leave you, you may be able to quiet these detrimental thoughts by focusing on self-love.

It's important to have a life outside of your relationships.

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You know the person who gets a boyfriend or girlfriend and then suddenly drops basically every other friend, hobby, and interest they previously had? Yeah, most of us have been that person.

When you enter a new relationship in your 20s, it can be all-consuming. Falling in love means you may want to spend every waking moment with your SO, and while that’s totally normal, it can get to a point where it isn’t healthy. It’s not exactly realistic to expect that your partner will be able to meet all of your emotional needs, which is why maintaining your own friendships outside of the relationship is crucial. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found that having a strong, reliable social network experience less physiological effects of stress during a conflict. In other words, having other friends can potentially not only save your relationship but your mental health as well. While it’s common to adopt shared hobbies and interests with your boo, it’s also a good idea to continue pursuing the passions that you had before you met your partner. After all, these are the things that make you unique (and may have attracted your partner to you in the first place!). By continuing to hone in on your own interests, you’ll put less pressure on your partner to make you feel fulfilled.

Not to mention, when you drop all of your hobbies and friends, you may unknowingly begin to harbor resentment toward your partner for replacing all the other things you used to enjoy and value. Hidden resentments are fuel for those ugly public fights that seem to flare up for no reason, which is just one more reason to maintain your own life outside of the relationship.

Always keep it clean.

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While it may be oh-so-tempting to hurl insults or blame during an argument or get sweet revenge on an ex, Shapiro advises trying to keep it clean in any scenario.

“When you fight or break up, it’s important to be your best self — someone you are proud to be,” she explains. “You never know when in the future you may run into your ex. You could run into them at a job interview or your kid’s kindergarten class! And when you do, you don’t want to feel embarrassed about yourself or the way you acted.”

Fighting “dirty” includes threats and intimidation, overgeneralizing, name calling, and bringing up sensitive information or previous conflicts. These kinds of behaviors can wear down the intimacy in a relationship while building up resentment. In a sense, either one or both people stop feeling emotionally safe to argue or fight. Sometimes it takes learning the hard way how detrimental fighting dirty can be. Fortunately, you’ll likely find that disputes can actually strengthen the relationship through greater understanding if both partners can hash hit out fairly and productively with respect for each other. Ideally, you'll want to engage in these arguments privately so that you both feel safe and comfortable being honest with each other.

There are some lessons we simply need to learn by making the mistakes ourselves. This trial-and-error approach may not always make things easy, but dating and relationships are a never-ending learning process. Some teachings we learn effortlessly, and others we need to have reinforced several times. That’s totally OK. After all, wouldn’t love be boring without a little learning? Think of it this way: Falling down and getting up only makes you stronger — and even more capable of sustaining a healthy, happy relationship.

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