Robin Saffir, MA, National Certified Counselor

All couples fight. In fact, the process of rupture and repair can actually be strength-building. The key as to whether an argument or difficult conversation makes a pair stronger lies in HOW a couple fights.

Maladaptive Disagreement Strategies

An eye for an eye

This can also look like fighting to fight. Have you ever been in a heated conversation and without thinking, you respond to something hurtful in a somewhat attacking manner? “Yeah, well you did x, and you expect me to apologize?” “That’s interesting coming from the person who does y.” Maybe in that moment, you’re feeling attacked. In that case, of course you want to defend yourself! You’re likely not enjoying the argument, and the emotions it’s provoking; you just want to feel better in that moment. Unfortunately, this tit-for-tat mentality can cause even more harm within the difficult conversation. It can be challenging to remember in the moment but what you say, and how you say it, can end up causing a multidimensional and complicated rupture that can feel like a rabbit hole of hurt. The alternative would be to slow down and set an intention: the intention to learn/grow from this experience both as an individual and a couple.

Involving others

This can look like dragging what someone else may have said into the conversation. “You always do x, even Jane says so.” The majority of the time, a statement like this is made with the intention to strengthen one’s own argument. However, this can make the other person feel attacked from multiple angles. During an argument is not the time to include what others may have mentioned. If, for example, one’s partner is exhibiting a worrisome behavior that has been observed and discussed by loved ones, perhaps those people can express their concern in a one-on-one setting. This may be more impactful for the recipient. Moreover, it never feels good to know that the ones you love were discussing you amongst each other.

Involving others, continued — discussing the argument with others

Having someone to “vent” to can often feel cathartic. In fact, when executed properly, talking to a close friend can feel supportive and help one process the important takeaways of the argument. However, one must be very careful within the process of disclosing to a friend or family member. For many, in relaying the story of “how things went down,” it can be easy to exclude important information that paints oneself in a bad light. Moreover, who one chooses to share this information with is important. Maybe you want to talk to a friend who you know will be “on your side” and invalidate your partner’s, but ultimately this is not aligned with the greater goal of working through the issue. This tactic can also arm you with the tools to deny and avoid the truth within the constructive criticism your partner was offering. Moreover, this can cause further strain and distance within your intimate relationships, especially once you’ve mended fences with your partner. By involving someone who isn’t going to challenge you, and holding space for the fact that there are always two sides to an argument, you’re creating a complicated dynamic between two people you deeply care about (this friend and your partner). However, if you are able to challenge yourself to communicate the details of the argument in its entirety (including the parts you’re not proud of) to someone you know is going to play devil’s advocate, call you out, and is ultimately rooting for your relationship to succeed, this can be adaptive, supportive, and an opportunity for growth.