Anybody in a new relationship is likely to wonder when they and their significant other will get into their "first fight." In any romantic partnership, disagreements are inevitable, healthy, and cathartic. But in our culture — influenced by the media — loud, aggressive, and heated arguments are sometimes mistaken for passion and romance. That is not a realistic or healthy way to look at love and communication, and you shouldn't worry if you don't fight with your partner.
I started thinking about the assumption that fighting equals passion when a friend of mine expressed concern that she and her new boyfriend had not yet had a dramatic argument. She wondered, does this mean we don't actually care about the relationship since we don't feel the need to fight about it? Are we boring? Seeing another woman worry that something was wrong because she and her partner communicated calmly, and because they typically felt relaxed in each others presence was upsetting. Why are we conditioned to think unhealthy interactions are desirable? And why are we made to think that yelling is a more effective method of communication — because we see it in the movies?
I spoke to Janna Koretz, Psy.D., licensed psychologist and Azimuth Psychological founder, and Erika Martinez, Psy.D., licensed psychologist from Envision Wellness, about these dangerous beliefs when it comes to aggressive fights, as well as the most effective ways to communicate issues with a partner.
"I disagree with the idea that fighting is exciting," Koretz tells Bustle. "I actually think the opposite — people don't really hear each other when they're yelling. People get defensive; it's not actually effective communication."
What else can we learn about dramatic fights and communication?
1. Pop Culture Can Skew Our Perception Of "Passion"
Think about romantic movies that depict the ups and downs of a relationship. It is a pretty common trope to see arguments complete with broken glasses and shouts that neighbors can overhear followed by hot, passionate sex. "I think, culturally, we get bombarded with a lot of images and media and movies and stories about these arguments," Martinez says. "And they think that that's normal, and they think that that's how it's supposed to be. And it's not. I think the media kinda tends to skew our perception of how it should work."
Koretz has a similar analysis of media's portrayal of passionate relationships: "I think people equate drama in general to passion and good sex. I think that is based in movies, honestly... There are certainly a lot of people who have reasonable conversations with each other and don't really 'fight-fight' much, and have great sex lives and lots of passion towards each other."
2. Heated Arguments Break Up Daily Monotony
If folks feel unfulfilled in other aspects of their lives — be it an unstimulating job, a quarterlife crisis, etc. — then creating drama can become a method used to keep life "exciting." However, it is definitely not a method that can be used to keep a relationship strong. Fighting can break the mundanity of the day-to-day, but it can't provide a real foundation for a couple (nor is it beneficial for your mental or physical health to be in yelling fights constantly).
"It kinda breaks up the monotony," says Martinez. "I hate to say this, but it might be the only time people really sit down and talk." Being honest and vulnerable, for some, is a lot harder than shouting things you might not even mean.
3. Disagreeing Is Normal, But It Doesn't Have To Be Dramatic
Now, none of this is to say that you should never disagree with your partner. That kind of behavior is also dysfunctional. It is also pretty impossible to never disagree. "A healthy mutual respect with each other helps you through those times. It is OK to disagree," Martinez tells me. And there are more effective ways to communicate that don't involve screaming at each other.
"I think one way people do really well in communicating is actually knowing themselves," says Koretz. "Being able to say, 'I'm sensitive about these things, or I know this is a trigger for me, I know I need to explain that to this person.'" Koretz also advises that we refrain from assuming we already know what the other partner is going to say when we are in a disagreement, and to remain a respectful, active listener.
4. Rarely Fighting Can Just Mean You've Found The Right Way To Communicate With Your Partner
I asked Koretz and Martinez when a lack of disagreements may signify a lack of communication. Martinez explains that while, yes, it can potentially show that you are "kinda tossing things under the bridge and not really speaking up," it may very well just demonstrate "that two people have figured out how to argue and how to communicate, and they're doing it well." A way to discern if that is what is happening in a relationship? "Whether the two people feel heard," says Martinez. "If they feel heard by each other, then it's working."
Koretz agrees. "It speaks more to temperament and preferences," she says. If partners are generally calm people or if they are easygoing, then disagreements may not pop up as frequently. "If people are not really disagreeing about much, it's not always because they are bad communicators — it's because they just agree."
5. There Are Better Ways To Communicate Issues Than Verbal Altercations
So what are some specific ways that we can communicate more effectively when we argue with a partner? Koretz brings up a method that she says isn't always considered a communication strategy. "I think the best communication strategy is apologizing. If you can apologize and own what's yours even if it's really hard, that can set the expectation of a reasonable conversation. Granted, you need a partner who is a good recipient of that information, but it can be a positive thing," she says.
Martinez also suggests using reflective statements. That means telling your partner, "What I hear you're saying is..." and then, as Martinez explains, "paraphrase what the person said to make sure you understand, and give them that opportunity to say yes or to correct you."
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