Some fights are game-changers. These are the fights that make you realize there's a chance that the one you're with is wrong for you: fights about cheating, family values, lifestyle choices and money. There are eight problematic fights couples have, says clinical psychologist Dr. Hillary Goldsher, and if you've had any of these fights with your partner lately, it might be a sign that a breakup is near.
Or not. No one can judge a relationship except those who are in it (though we all do anyway), and there's no way to clinically diagnose a breakup. One fight for one couple might be totally solvable for another, and one couple's woes may be another couple's chance for growth, communication and change. That said, there are quarrels, and then there are those epic, mind-altering, crazy-making, relationship status–changing fights, and these are the variety that Goldsher discusses. If you or someone you know has had this kind of row of late, splitsville may be near.
Here's hoping not — or hoping so, if it's an unhealthy relationship and it's time for a moment of life revision. Either way, these are the conflicts that no one can "win" (though there's no such thing when it comes to fights), where both parties stand to lose everything they've built in the relationship.
1. The Fight About Relationship Status
"If one part of the couple believes the relationship is exclusive and on track for the long haul, while the other denies or minimizes the seriousness of the commitment, this is usually a recipe for strife," says Goldsher. When two people who want different things, it's unlikely either person will wind up happy. "After six months, if individuals aren’t close to the same page about the future, it is best for both to move on," she says. "The key to relationship success is timing of what both parties want."
2. The Fight About What Counts As Cheating
"If there is a lack of agreement" about what constitutes cheating, "there will be a lack of understanding on many boundary issues moving forward," Goldsher says. "Both parties should agree on a line that can’t be crossed." Some couples might agree to polyamory or an open relationship. Others might prefer to be strictly monogamous. But above all, a couple has to link up on the definition of cheating. "If that is not possible, the relationship is not sustainable," she says. "The relationship is unable to feel safe or stable if this fundamental set of rules cannot be established."
3. The Fight About Where Family Fits In
Some couples like to spend lots of free time with one set of parents or the other; others may prefer to see their parents or in-laws infrequently. "There is no right or wrong here, but there should be agreement," Goldsher says. "If one person is very involved and close with family, the other should know and accept this dynamic for the relationship to deepen and thrive." On the flip side, "if one has a basic inclination to repel ... family, partnering with someone on the opposite side of the spectrum will create conflict, and is not sustainable." Be upfront from the very beginning about where you stand on the family continuum.
4. The Fight About Differing Sex Drives
"If one person sees [sex] as a crucial, central part of the relationship, and the other can take it or leave it, arguments will be a regular fixture in the relationship dynamic," says Goldsher. "People don’t have to have the same sex drive, but it should be similar and flexible." This requires communication, open-mindedness, and a general sense of GGG. If your sex drive wildly differs from your partner's or there's no flexibility on one or both sides of the equation, feelings will be hurt. "If a happy medium cannot be created, it is possible the relationship may come to a conclusion as a result."
5. The Fight About Children
"This argument is a painful one, and should be sorted as soon as possible," Goldsher says. "If one person wants kids and the other doesn’t, it isn’t fair to bring a child into the world under those circumstances." Once again, be upfront about your desires — voice such things at the beginning of a relationship. (Not on the first date, I'd argue, but some would disagree with me on this.) "Fighting about such a fundamental difference in desires is a bit fruitless," she says. In the event that you're dating someone who doesn't want children and you do, or vice versa, "it is best to part, and find someone with a like mindset on this issue," says Goldsher. "There are too many ongoing consequences to compromising on this particular topic."
6. The Fight About Lifestyle Choices
"If one partner drinks and parties and is spontaneous and wild, and the other is sober, an introvert and a loner, it is a hard set of dynamics to merge," Goldsher says. "It doesn’t mean it’s impossible" to get along and have a successful relationship, "it just means you have to be an expert at compromising," she says. "If a couple continually fights about such an issue and can’t find personal flexibility on these topics, it's best to seek out a relationship where these preferences are naturally aligned."
7. The Fight About Respectful Communication
"Fighting is inevitable," says Goldsher. "How you do it is critical. If a regular argument is around how one or both of the members of the couple speaks to each other when there is conflict, this issue is a red flag that needs resolution or should be the impetus for parting ways." Obviously, it's best if there's mutual respect and general all-around decency when an argument happens. "If there is name-calling, stonewalling, manipulation or general mistreatment that occurs during or after arguments on a regular basis, it is a serious symptom that should be carefully addressed," she says.
This is a pretty cut and dried sentiment, Goldsher says: "Couples that are unable or unwilling to communicate in a respectful manner when there is conflict should not be together." Mic down, end of story. Staying together in such a situation "is not good for the individual or the couple, and would create a negative environment in which to raise kids," she says. "Therapy should be sought to help resolve and without success, dismantling the relationship should be considered."
8. The Fight About Money
"Fighting about money is also fairly inevitable," Goldsher says. "It is a sensitive issue, and requires a lot of planning and adjusting and sometimes flexibility. If a couple finds themselves deeply disagreeing about how to spend, save or make money over and over again, it is possible the end of the relationship might come sooner than later." This is because deep value systems are at play here, and it's hard to have a healthy relationship if your partner's thoughts on money are radically different than your own — though it is possible, of course. "It is important to have views that can coexist around money in order to establish a stable lifestyle and future," Goldsher says.
As with the other seven fights, if you're with someone whose outlook on life and love is completely dissimilar from your own, it'll likely be an uphill battle from the start, and other options should be considered.
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