How much fighting is too much in a relationship?
When you’re in a relationship, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to fight with your partner at some point—that’s just life. But when you find yourself bickering more than usual, it’s natural to wonder, “how much fighting is too much?” and "are we totally screwed?"
Before you freak out and think your relationship is doomed because you had two fights last week, know this: Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., says it’s completely normal to have arguments and disagreements with your partner. However, he says, some couples just argue more than others. “There is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that’s right for all couples,” he says.
In fact, licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, says it’s actually good to argue a little. “Fighting means you care about the relationship,” she says. “When fighting goes away completely, sometimes one or both people have checked out.”
While it’s clearly not fun for anyone if you’re fighting all the time, licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago, says it’s actually more important to ask yourself how well you and your partner make up. Meaning, are you two able to resolve fights or do you have lingering issues that you shelve each time to keep the peace? “Couples who are able to go through conflict into harmony end up having productive fights which leads to greater intimacy,” he says.
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Quality is key when it comes to arguing, Durvasula says. If you can argue in a respectful way—by using phrases like “I feel really angry” or “I feel like I’m not being heard” and avoiding character assaults—you’re in a good place. If you start attacking each other personally (think: name-calling, criticizing the core of who someone is or how they look), it’s not healthy for your relationship.
Cilona says there are a few other signs that the fighting in your relationship isn’t healthy: Bringing up the past (healthy arguments focus on the current issue), fighting over the same thing over and over with no resolution or compromise, and feeling upset about the fact that you’re fighting all the time. “This is very different than being upset about whatever issue is causing or triggering conflict,” he explains. “If even one member of a couple has feelings of upset, dissatisfaction, discomfort, fear, or any other significant negative feelings related to the nature, frequency, or intensity of the conflict itself, it's something that should be addressed.”
If you’re early in a relationship and you’ve been fighting, it’s not a great sign, Klow says, but it doesn’t mean you’re doomed as long as the arguments aren’t physically, emotionally, or psychologically violent. “Couples who can fight fairly and safely, even if that starts early in a relationship, have a better chance than couples who become violent,” he says.
If you find that you’re arguing a lot, it’s bothering you, and the two of you can't seem to get it right, it may be time to see a professional for help. “Often a clean pair of eyes can help you see where your communication patterns are going wrong,” Durvasula says. “When I work with a couple, it’s clear in five seconds.”
But if you argue here and there, and you feel like you’re mostly resolving issues when you do fight, don’t freak out. “Don’t let arguments scare you; just pay attention to the quality of them,” Durvasula says.