When it comes to your relationship, are you a lover or a fighter or a loving fighter or a fighting lover or...?
The reality is every couple has a "fight routine" and how you and your significant other disagree can ultimately determine your long-term compatibility.
"When it comes to fighting, the bigger question is: Are you mismatched? Can you bridge the gap in your fighting styles?" says Laurie Puhn, author of Fight Less, Love More and creator of the online virtual couple's course based on the book.
In other words, if you and your partner have divergent disagreement patterns in place, you might never reach a resolution when you fight unless you make an effort to understand each other's default squabble setting and learn to work together toward a solution.
"One's fighting style is a balance between yin and yang," explains Puhn. "Yin is how aggressive you are (versus passive) and yang is how self-aware you are (whether you are a victim of your impulse, or a wise person who carefully chooses words to achieve a solution). It's the combo that tells us who you are when you fight."
The first step in harmonizing your disagreements with your partner is learning to fight for results. "Fighting to change a person just exhausts you," says Puhn. "Fighting to get a solution to the problem at hand is healthy."
See if you recognize you and your significant other in any of the following fight types and discover how you can learn to fight "better."
1. The Dramatic Duo
When it comes time to fight, "Duck" should probably be your battle cry. No doubt there is a lot of passion in this relationship, but there is also SO. MUCH. DRAMA. When the sh*t hits the fan, things probably start to fly. The good news is you're getting your anger out (i.e., no pent-up internal stress here, though there may be broken vases). The bad news is that things are so explosive, you may never really deal with the issue at hand (especially since your heightened energy may lead you to "make up" just as passionately before anything has been resolved).
The Solution: "If you have a negative routine, do something different," advises Puhn. "The minute you feel your blood start to boil, ask your partner if you can fight about this at the table. Seriously, just ask your partner to sit down for a few minutes." By changing locations, you fend off the impulse to literally run away from the fight or throw things in anger. That, in turn, "allows your brain to start working a little better," she says.
Because you're more reactive than cooperative, you need to take a time-out from fight-or-flight mode and shift into thinking mode if you don't want to keep rehashing the same issues (and breaking more china).
2. The We-Agree-On-Everything Twins
"We're so similar, we never argue!" you exclaim to anyone who will listen. Yawn. As a couple you swear you are perfectly synced, but really... really? You two never, ever disagree about anything? Like you always want to see the same movie, have the same dinner, do the same thing on Saturday night? Yeah, we don't buy it. Unfortunately what this more likely says about you as a couple is that you're both sublimating your own needs at times in this relationship for the sake of keeping the peace at any cost.
The Solution: If you're in this type of relationship, make sure to check in with yourself and your intuition from time to time. Is everything sitting well with you? Are you happy with decisions you've made as a couple lately? If your gut starts to tell you otherwise, don't be afraid to speak up.
"The only way to agree on everything is if you're identical twins who have lived the exact same life, and that's one in a billion," says Puhn. "So you have to recognize that fighting is normal because we all have different preferences and experiences. If you're not ever having disagreements, you're not respecting your own identity."
Remember, it's okay to disagree sometimes. It doesn't mean you're not a solid couple, it just means you're two separate people with your own opinions.
3. The Overanalyzers
When it comes to differences of opinion, you two pick apart everything. As a result, you're exhausted (we are too just thinking about you deconstructing the same disagreements over and over and over). The problem with micro-analyzing every tiny little bump in your relationship is that soon things become about what's wrong with your relationship instead of focusing on what's right (and small issues suddenly seem magnified because you keep hashing them out). It's hard for you two to find a solution to any issue, because there's always another issue on the docket for you to address (think of it as the never-ending nitpick).
The Solution: The problem with overanalyzing things is that it often comes along with judgment (i.e., you think you're right and he thinks he's right, so even if you're not outwardly fighting, you're probably judging each other's opinion). When you analyze things to death, you can end up at a solution stalemate.
"The answer here is to play detective rather than arm-chair psychologist, and this works for all types of fight styles," says Puhn, who suggests that instead of making assumptions about why your mate did what he did, ask questions like, "What was your understanding?" "What am I missing here?" And "Can you explain what you were thinking at this time?" What this does is give you more information and allows you to see your partner's side of the issue. Then you are free to express your opinion and how you interpreted it, which will put you two on a path towards mutual understanding rather than judging.
4. The She-Said-He-Runs
"Honey, we need to talk." Nothing strikes fear into the heart of an avoidant significant other more than those five little words. And chances are, they'll actually send him running away from you and any disagreement you're having. But if your typical fight pattern is that you want to discuss and he'd prefer to sweep it under the rug, then you're definitely mismatched. Even though a desire to chat things out can show a good degree of self-awareness, it's important to recognize that not everyone can handle the same amount of verbal contemplation, and it's equally unfair to burden your partner with your communication style.
The Solution: If your partner blanches and looks panicked at the suggestion that something could be wrong and you want to have a discussion, take away that fear by promising a time limit. "If your mate tunes out after a while, don't change your mate, change yourself -- prepare your thoughts and have a solution in mind before you broach the subject," says Puhn. "Then say, 'Can we have a five-minute talk?' instead of just 'Can we talk?'" By letting your partner know he's not going to be stuck there all night having a fight, you can probably get his attention by promising a finite discussion such that you can come to a solution and move on with your life.
5. The Silent-but-Deadlies
Hello, awkward! Nothing like the silent treatment to make an already upsetting situation even tenser! You probably don't outwardly fight but instead carry around the emotional equivalent of The Hunger Games (i.e., may the strongest partner with the most resolve win); as a result, you're spending a lot of time in mute conflict. You're the pair people start to avoid at dinner parties because there is always this obvious underlying tension, but by this point, you're probably barely speaking to each other. That is, until all those little things that are bothering you add up and one of you blows a gasket over something inconsequential -- like your honey buying whole milk instead of skim.
The Solution: "Most relationship problems are not people problems, they're communication problems," says Puhn. "Silent treatment usually comes closer to the end of a relationship because you've given up. You do not have good communication skills as a couple and you realize you have no energy left for fights anymore."
Unfortunately, clamming up and retreating won't solve anything either. Unless you want the relationship to end, the solution here is to try something different. "Try saying to your partner, 'I am upset and I realize I'm about to become silent about it and it's because I don't have the energy to fight anymore and I would imagine you feel the same way,'" says Puhn. "The next line is 'Maybe we need to find a new way to disagree so we can come up with a solution each time. Would you be up for something like that?'" You can help defuse the tension by bringing up the elephant in the room with a smile.
Fighting is healthy when a mutual understanding is reached. In any argument, assume that what you think is wrong and what he thinks is wrong. "The solution that will be lasting is always the one you come up with together," says Puhn.
So, what's your "fight routine" as a couple?