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How Often Do Couples Fight And Should You Be Concerned?

If you have been fighting with your partner, you might be asking yourself, “Why do we fight all the time?” or “Why do we always argue over the same little things ?” On a daily basis, couples contact me because they are concerned about how often they fight and have many fears about how often they miscommunicate. 

During the honeymoon phase in relationships, most couples feel happy and afterward have many positive memories. But as relationships get more serious, couples’ differences seem to rear their ugly heads. Long, loving glances are replaced by harsh glares and dagger eyes.

How Often Do Couples Fight?

In relationships, you want to have more positive experiences with your partner than negative ones. Don’t worry; you don’t need to start counting. Most people find it obvious when the negative experiences outweigh the positives because people in those relationships feel more drained and exhausted than happy and excited to talk to each other.

How Often Should Couples Fight?

How often your partner and you argue will differ between couples and is based on your comfort level. As a couples therapist for over 10 years and a therapist for 30 years, couples ask many questions about how and why they argue.

How Long Do Fights Normally Last In A Healthy Relationship Vs. An Unhealthy One?

When couples learn how to have productive and effective arguments, then they shouldn’t last for more than about an hour. As a couples therapist, my goal is to teach couples to finish an argument in less than 15 minutes. When couples learn to focus on their connection and take care of each other, instead of the focus being on protecting their ego or being right, then the fights become shorter and more civil.

Unhealthy relationship fights can last for hours or days. Sometimes couples have yelling matches until they run out of steam and other times, they don’t talk for days, giving each other the silent treatment. 

5 Common Questions Clients Ask About Why They Argue And The Answers:

  1. Is Fighting Everyday Normal? For some couples, fighting every day is normal and they do not get rattled by this level of arguing. On the other hand, other couples should and would be concerned if they argued everyday because that level of fighting is unusual for them. In session, I explore with the couple their comfort level with this intensity of arguing and help them make a change, if they desire.
  2. Why Do We Argue When We Are Apart? Many couples argue when they are apart because they lack eye contact and physical touch. Couples can use eye contact and physical touch to co-regulate each other and decrease their number of arguments. Sometimes the fact that a couple is apart can bring relief for some people and a heightened sense of anxiety for other people. Being aware of what happens to your partner when you are apart will help you be able to address any fears, anxiety, and concerns.
  3. When Do You Know The Arguments Are Toxic? Dr. Lilian Glass defined toxic people as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.” Some possible signs of toxic relationships are feeling manipulated, being abused, and lied to. In addition, other signs are you feel drained emotionally, mentally and physically from your interactions and conversations. 
  4. What Is Fair Fighting? Or Do We Need To Fight Fairly? Yes, you need to fight fairly because the person you are arguing with is your partner. However, sometimes the way we speak to each other feels more  like we are enemies, than partners, friends and lovers. Many times, you might feel that your partner is not fighting fairly and decide not to fight fairly either, but you may wonder if either of you are thinking about each other or just yourself. In relationships, we are supposed to care about and protect each other, so fighting fairly would be an important variable to creating a healthy relationship. Some pointers on how to fight fairly are to discuss one topic at a time, slow down and listen to each other, avoid words like “never” and always and absolutely no “hitting below the belt”.
  5. If We Take A Break To Calm Down, How Much Time Should We Wait To Come Back And Discuss The Topic Again? Dr. Gottman found that couples need to take a break from fighting when one or both partners are emotionally dysregulated. You will know that you need to take a break if your conversation is going in circles or you are not resolving the issue. Dr. Gottman found that couples usually need to wait between 20 minutes and 1 hour to calm down. Of course, if you are trying to calm down, but you are thinking about how upset you are and all the things your partner has done to upset you, you will not be calmer after an hour. Therefore, try one or more of these ideas to calm down and relax your mind and body: breathing, meditating, playing a game, walking, journaling, or listening to music. 

What Is The Number One Thing Couples Fight About?

The Gottmans found in their research with couples that the number one thing that couples fight about is nothing. What that means for you is to start noticing if you are fighting about lots of little issues, such as which restaurant you want to go to tonight or if you should eat at 6 pm versus 6:30 pm. Many fights are due to minor misunderstandings and miscommunications.  

You might find yourself fighting about inconsequential topics, but sometimes the topics are larger, have more significance and deeply affect you. 

Besides fighting about small issues, couples can argue about more meaningful and important issues. These crucial issues can create challenges to communication and can increase the likelihood to argue. 

Couples often come to me after having one-too-many arguments about:

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Kids
  • In-laws
  • Interrupting
  • Not listening to each other
  • Getting defensive
  • Shutting down and walking away
  • Cellphones
  • Social Media
  • Pornography
  • Friends of the opposite sex

How Much Fighting Is Too Often?

Fighting “too often” is a matter of perspective and personal preference frequently created by how we were raised. Some of my couples never saw their parents fight and think that one fight means it’s the end of the relationship. Other couples had parents that fought constantly, and now they too find themselves fighting constantly. A third group of couples had parents that fought a lot and intentionally told themselves they would never want to repeat their parents’ patterns. However, they find themselves fighting just like their parents.  

How Long Do Fights Last In a Relationship?

I find that the shorter my clients argue, the healthier the relationship is. Dr. Stan Tatkin advises couples not to fight for longer than 15 minutes. He states that partners should pause after about 15 minutes, take a break, and then revisit the conversation. 

In Dr. John Gottman’s and Dr. Robert Levenson’s research, they found that couples who split up tended to take “a lot longer to address an argument,” meaning each partner was left to stew for days after a disagreement happened. 

Conversely, couples who stayed married were more likely to “discuss their argument right after it happened. Gottman and Levenson found that the longer couples don’t discuss what’s bothering them and seek to resolve the issue, the more resentment builds up, creating more long-term challenges for couples.

What Does It Mean When Couples Fight?

Couples fight for a whole host of reasons, and to conjecture exactly why people argue is almost impossible. However, most couples generally fight about personality differences, preferences and perspectives. They can learn, however, how to navigate and create win-win conversations despite these differences. 

According to Gottman’s research, “Both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. This leaves 91% of our relational interactions ripe for miscommunication.” Therefore, when couples fight, they are usually not emotionally present with their partner and able to address the topic at hand. 

If Fighting Ever A Good Sign?

Some people believe that fighting is a good sign of a healthy relationship. As a couples therapist, I would never tell a couple that fighting is good, but instead, I would encourage the couples to discuss and decide for themselves if fighting is a productive and effective method of communication for them. 

Arguing can be a good sign if it means you are talking about issues rather than shoving them in the closet. Arguing can be a good sign if you don’t get nasty and speak to each other in a civil and respectful manner. 

Other couples find that fighting is a very bad sign of their relationship status because they prefer their discussions to be calmer and more peaceful. It’s a bad sign if the couple is using the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and fighting unfairly. 

What Your Arguments Are Trying To Tell You About Your Relationship

Arguments and disagreements may suggest that you are not feeling listened to and ignored. Conversations may leave you feeling lost and confused because your partner is speaking so quickly and too lengthy to follow.  In addition, you may find that issues are driving a wedge between the two of you which is leading to a breakdown in discussions. Conflict may indicate that there are unresolved issues and unmet and unaddressed needs that should be discussed to prevent constant and repetitive fights. Different values, beliefs or opinions between your partner and yourself may lead to issues in your relationship. 

When I Get Concerned About Fighting As A Therapist

I’m very concerned when a couple shares that during an argument, they are physical – hitting, pushing, shoving or throwing things. If that is the case, I advise the couple to disengage from each other and get help immediately.

I’m also concerned when partners are dismissive or contemptuous of each other. Dismissiveness is sometimes a first response due to surprise, personal fears or uncertainty about how to respond to the situation. If the dismissive partner returns to the conversation within a few hours, takes responsibility for their denial of the issue, and is willing to discuss concerns, this indicates an opening to try to resolve the issue at that time. If the issue cannot be resolved within a short amount of time, outside help may be considered. 

Contempt is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of a relationship that Dr. Gottman describes as being demonstrated by interrupting, correcting, making fun or name-calling (such as Stupid or Witch). If the partner is continually dismissive or contemptuous, then I think the couple has a larger problem to address, and counseling is definitely warranted.

When Should You Be Concerned About The Four Horsemen?

Every couple needs to determine their threshold for the level of intensity and frequency of arguments. If you think that fighting is an issue in your relationship, you should speak to your partner about what your choices are to more effectively address this situation. Sometimes when partners address this topic directly, they can come to a resolution and fix this problem.

 If you are fighting over really big issues or about the same topic over and over again, feeling like you are beating a dead horse, you may need outside assistance to address the reasons for the fighting, how to fight fair, and how to communicate effectively.

Let’s Get To The Bottom Line : Is Your Relationship Over If You Need Therapy Because You Fight Too Much?

No, if your relationship needs therapy it’s an indication that you need to work on or fix something and/or improve it. 

Most couples enter therapy stating that they are fighting and can’t resolve their arguments. At the end of therapy, many couples are very happy that they learned how to resolve their differences. They do this by learning how to talk through a problem and work as a team, rather than 2 people in a boxing ring wondering who is going to be left standing at the end of the fight (figuratively, not literally). Frequently, couples just don’t have the tools and skills to work out their issues. 

Whether you never had a role model growing up that showed how to fight effectively or you just are not sure how to discuss your needs and wants, after learning effective communication skills, you will feel heard, understood and validated by your partner. Often couples don’t realize that it only takes a little bit of effort to learn how to listen and communicate more effectively. 

You can learn how to understand the reasons for your fighting and what to do about it. You can decide that it should be a concern, or you can focus on other aspects of life.  An enduring, peaceful, loving and secure relationship is not a dream; it can be your reality. 

My Tips For How To Stop An Argument In 3 Quick Steps:

These suggestions will not solve your problem but can help you resolve the issue momentarily while you decide your best course of action:

  1. Eye to Eye-When you are trying to have a discussion while texting, talking on the phone or driving, you can not see each other’s faces and eyes which increases the likelihood of fighting and misunderstanding each other. Pause the conversation until you can be near each other and discuss the matter. When you are in one location, sit down in close proximity, seeing each other’s eyes and facial expressions and facing each other. Take this opportunity to notice how your partner is feeling by looking at changes in your partner’s face as you discuss the concern. This sitting position may decrease your arguments.
  2. Pause and Be Curious-If you notice that things seem to be getting heated or your partner or you are getting upset, then stop the conversation. In advance of any argument, you should discuss with your partner how you will handle a conversation if you start to get upset or fight. Dr. Gottman suggests that it usually takes about 20 minutes to an hour to calm yourself down and think about a productive way to restart the conversation. During your break, if you continue to think about the conversation and all of the things your partner did and said that upset you, you will not be calmer when you restart your conversation. Instead, you should breathe, think of a serene place or perform a self-soothing activity. After you feel calm, ask yourself and your partner questions, such as: will this issue matter in a year? Can I let it go? What is my part in this disagreement? How can I restart the conversation and have it go well?  These questions are meant to help you reflect, acknowledge what happened that derailed the discussion, and restart the conversation, creating connection and understanding.
  3. Relationship First-If your relationship is important to you, then decide to put aside your opinions and differences and work together with your partner. Brainstorm solutions with your partner that will satisfy both of you, creating a win-win outcome. When your relationship comes first, then usually couples can work together as a team. A team approach will create a secure and enduring relationship. How often do couples fight may be one of your concerns, but when you put your relationship first, your communication dynamics will totally change.

Relationships are opportunities for closeness and connection, yet they can be so difficult to achieve. Couples may wonder how often do couples fight, how they should get out of the disagreement and what to do to resolve their issues effectively. These are great questions for couples therapy and intensive couples retreats if you want faster results. I offer both and frequently help couples transition from fighting a lot to feeling like they have better tools to resolve their differences.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Rabinowitz

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC is a certified Gottman therapist working with couples in the US and internationally. Lisa has worked for many years with couples who have both diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD. Her certifications and experience uniquely qualify her to support couples with relationship challenges that often feel insurmountable. Please reach out for a free 20-minute consultation with Lisa today.

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Annapolis, MD 21401

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