10 Ways Fights Change When Your Partner Gets More Mature
There are fights, and then there are fights. By this I mean that there are naturally occurring power struggles and hurt feelings that come with even the most healthy relationships, and then there are the manipulative, petty, controlling and otherwise awful fights that can happen when one or both partners are not emotional grown-ups yet. So how do fights change in healthy relationships? Maybe you started dating in high school, but now, 10 years later, you've found yourself in an adult relationship. Or, who knows, maybe you started dating last year, but your partner has made the unlikely transition from flaky commitmentphobe to responsible human in 12 short months.
Whatever the case may be, fights are going to happen, but "it's not about the fight, it's how you fight," says Rebecca Wong, relationship therapist and founder of Connectfulness. "Research shows that 69 percent of the time, the stuff couples fight about is perpetually unresolvable." But don't fret: "This should be fabulous news," she adds, "because it helps shed light on what really matters. Hint: It's not that thing you are fighting over."
If you're in a healthy, mature partnership, you know that fights are just blips, little chances to realign and grow. "Mature couples understand the importance of their relationship, and they prioritize their relationship with one another over their disagreements," she says. "Mature (and happy) couples know how to repair during and after a fight. And that repair is the secret to relationship longevity."
Don't expect to resolve every minute detail of a conflict: "If you go into a fight knowing that you aren't going to find a resolution to the thing you are in disagreement about, what does that change for you?" Wong says. Understanding that the topic at hand might not be most important "helps many of the couples I work with soften," she says. "It helps them to refocus on their relationship, rather than whatever they are fighting about. And in relationship, that's how it should be. You want to know that your partner has your back. It sucks to feel at odds."
Wong asks couples, "What if your fights could shift gears and actually help you connect deeper rather than pull apart?" In an adult relationship, you still fight — but the manner in which you fight "matures," she says. Here are 10 ways fights mature when your partner grows up:
1. Expectations Change
Since the majority of fights are unresolvable, arguments can become tiny opportunities for mutual understanding and growth. Wong calls the fact that there's no right answer to a fight "awesome news." As a result, that "helps you to refocus on the two of you connecting, rather than the issue at hand," she says. When a fight breaks out, both people can have the chance to express what's bothering them, hear each other, and talk about it. It's simple, but it's not easy — these levelheaded arguments take time, practice, open-mindedness and a lot of love.
2. Your Partner Becomes More Mindful Of You
And vice versa, assuming you are also growing more wise and emotionally intelligent as time goes on. "Couples expert John Gottman says what gets couples into the most trouble is often mindlessness, not malice," Wong says. If you want to go to a big brunch with friends and your partner would rather lie in bed and relax, a mature partner will be able to to communicate their choice with kindness. "Take note of what your partner is doing, saying and feeling," Wong says, and vice versa. Instead of refusing to go to brunch without giving a reason, your partner will be able to explain why they are making this choice — and will be available to hear you out and reconsider if the brunch is important to you.
3. You Become More Mindful Of Yourself
Your partner doesn't just grow — you grow too. As such, you also learn to apologize when you're at fault, and take responsibility for your actions. "It can be infuriating to be with someone who tells you that you are the issue without taking responsibility for their own contribution, right?" Wong says.
4. Curiosity Reigns
"Be curious," advises Wong. "Curiosity counteracts defensiveness. It allows you to really listen and hear one another." A mature partner doesn't jump to conclusions, and doesn't blow up just because you say one thing they don't like. They ask questions, investigate, and are open to exploration — together.
5. They Cop To Their Part
"Take responsibility," Wong says. "This goes hand in hand with being curious, because it also counteracts defensiveness," says Wong. In a fight, if your partner admits they were feeling overly sensitive or acknowledges that they shouldn't have been a half hour late, things tend to simmer down. And it takes two, she reminds: "Mature couples find a small nugget of truth you can each own that allows your partner to feel heard, understood and appreciated."
6. They Listen To You
In a fight, mature partners "listen and take notes, but don’t try to fix," Wong says. Perhaps you're upset about the way your partner phrased something, and you bring it up. Instead of immediately trying to explain themselves and make everything better, a true adult will hear you out and apologize, instead of rationalizing their actions. "If you are like most people, when you listen to someone share a dilemma, you are probably listening with an ear of formulating your response — before they are done sharing," Wong says. "When you do that, and when I do that too, we aren't really listening and hearing one another fully. Your brain is multitasking and not focused on tuning in." Instead, a true grownup learns to just listen and be present.
7. They Have Your Back
A mature partner knows that you're "on the same team" and that you "have each other’s backs," Wong says. That means not lashing out. "You know that you will find your way back to one another" in an adult relationship, she says. After a fight, maybe the way back starts with a humble, "Hey, can we try this again?” Wong says. "And a heartfelt 'I’m sorry' can go a long way," she reminds.
8. Playfulness Is Key
"Find your playful, sparky place," suggests Wong. "This is a place in your everyday relationship where you soften and melt into one another." Whatever that place might look like, it's vital, she says: "Mature couples make this space ritualistic in their relationship." This might be the time when you take a shower together, or watch silly YouTube videos, or banter back and forth about inside jokes. "It’s the stuff you enjoy doing together that fills up your reserves with good feelings about one another and a wealth of fun in general," says Wong. "The activity itself isn’t important, it’s how it leaves each of you feeling that is."
9. You're Best Friends
At the end of the day, a mature partner is your friend, and will be there for you no matter what. "Befriend your partner," says Wong. "All couples fight." In a grownup partnership, those fights will be buoyed your friendship. "Keeping good feelings about one another at the top of your mind sets you up for success," she says.
10. They Validate Your Experience
Let's say you're feeling sad about a joke your partner made about your hair. Maybe, on a good day, the comment would have been totally fine, but you're having one of those days of extreme sensitivity. Instead of defending themselves, a mature partner hears you. "Mature couples always see the importance of connecting," says Wong. When your partner takes the time to connect with you, you feel "understood, and that validates [your] experience," Wong says. "Also, nine out of 10 times after feeling understood, [you] will naturally become more curious about [your partner's] take on the issue at hand."
By listening to you and validating your experience, there's a good chance your partner will help you to understand that it really was just a (bad) joke about your hair — not a deep dig at your hair's very existence. And the same can be said of most fights. A little listening, validating and understanding goes a long, long way.
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