Reader Question: We Fight Too Often — What’s Going On?
Lately me and my girlfriend have been fighting a lot over things. Sometimes it’s over the same things, sometimes it’s jealousy, but other times, it’s completely random. What’s going on? Help?
David Singh from Singapore
One of the commonest subjects I’m asked about is about couples fighting. Why do we fight so much? Is it normal? What can we do about it?
Every couple has disputes, and they’re a healthy part of a normal human relationship. We all need to express our needs and our frustrations, to get them out in the open. If we don’t express our emotions, they fester inside us and lead to much more terrible trouble later.
But, as many people have observed, the healthy expression of our own emotions can be quite unhealthy for our loved ones. Anger, in particular, is a hard emotion to express safely, though it can be done.
Think of a toddler or child having a tantrum. They’re frustrated by the limits put on them by their parents, by the world, and they don’t know how to handle the feeling. So they express it in raw rage – throwing toys, yelling, blaming their parents for being mean.
No words from their parents, no rational reasoning, does any good at all. It can take quite a while for them to calm down and regain their equilibrium.
Of course, no one really blames a child for this, since they haven’t yet learned how to handle frustration and anger. As kids grow up, parents try hard to teach them to use words instead of throwing things, hitting or kicking.
A very important moment in the maturity of a growing child is when they learn – gradually – to say, “I’m really angry” instead of acting out with violence. And even more important is learning to say why they are angry.
Avoid Acting Like a Child
We all learn this as we grow up. But some people seem to forget it again as adults. When they get into a serious relationship, like marriage, they revert to more primitive expressions of frustration. Although few people return to physical expressions of anger, many people resort to shouting and screaming at each other, which doesn’t help the relationship.
Our relationships put new limits on us, the same way the world puts limits on a growing child. We are no longer able to act completely independently as we might wish. There are limits on our romantic and sexual life, on our money, on what and when and how we eat, on where we go on vacation, and on many other aspects of our lives.
Frustration and fighting are a normal part of this process. But you may wonder – how much is too much?
I can’t tell you any hard and fast rule for how much fighting is “too much.” That’s for you to decide for yourself, but if jealousy is involved, take time to consider and discover its roots.
If you’ve decided you fight too much, what can you do?
10-Points to Defuse a Big Fight
As part of my extensive work on saving troubled marriages, I’ve developed a 10-point Dispute Defusing System that can help you fight less often and also help turn fights from emotional brawls into productive discussions that actually change things.
1) Think before you speak. Your mother’s advice to count to ten (or a hundred) before replying to something that angers you is great advice. Take a few deep breaths.
2) Take a time out. It works for toddlers, and if you feel as angry as a toddler, it can work for you! Leave the room and give yourself time to think.
3) Respond when you’re calm. Let the higher part of your brain have a chance to speak, instead of the primitive “reptile” brain stem.
4) Avoid triggers. Take some quiet time to write down and reflect on the “triggers” that really make you angry. What are the hot button issues that drive you insane? Make a list of these topics or situations and think about how to avoid them.
5) Change the way you think. This takes time and practice. But you can teach yourself to look at situations differently. If it’s not a life-or-death situation, why are you reacting to it with so much rage?
6) Check your facts. Make sure you know exactly what the situation is, and that you really understand what your partner is saying. Misunderstandings lead to a lot of unnecessary fights.
7) Use humour. A sense of humour is the best tool against frustration and fighting.
8) Use logic. Think about hot-button issues when you are calm and rational, rather than when you are angry and emotional.
9) Exercise and use relaxation techniques. Working out at the gym or just taking a walk every day can really help you tame your overwhelming emotions, and can also change your perspective on many frustrating subjects.
10) Seek help. Don’t be afraid to get the help of a professional, for yourself and for your relationship, if you need it.
Communication is the key to ending constant fighting. If you fight too often, it may be because the same irritating issues keep coming up. If both of you have written down lists of your “triggers,” you should be able to find a calm time to discuss them and come up with some solutions.
Remember – you don’t have to solve all these problems at once, but by showing your partner (and yourself) that you’re willing and able to work on them constructively, you will help reduce the number of fights you have.
I also recommend talking to each other in turns with a timer. This is a good thing to do while driving somewhere together, or when you have a few minutes of time at home. Using a timer, each person talks for three minutes or so about whatever they want, while the other partner just listens and keeps their mouth shut. Then you switch roles. Repeat as many times as you want.
This sort of “checking in” with each other can greatly improve communication between you. It will also give both of you plenty of practice at talking about your own emotions and about what frustrates you, angers you, and makes you happy.
Practicing good, clear communication will not only help to reduce fights, but will make the fights you do have better and more helpful, more like heated discussions than just useless shouting matches.
Last, but certainly not the least, Read my best-selling “Ex Factor Guide” that have been proven to help people get their exes back or the “Mend the Marriage” program for useful resources on how to fix your marriage.