When you're single, sure, you fantasize about the positives that come with being romantically involved with someone: confiding in one another, enjoying new experiences, and of course, having hot, consistent sex. What we fail to recognize when we're on the outside looking in, however, is the rush of negative emotions and unavoidable circumstances that accompany sharing your life with someone.
In a relationship, one becomes two, and two become one; you're a pair. Two different people, personalities, and polarizing spirits collide to form a insatiable interpersonal connection that isn't always rainbows and butterflies. Opposing wants and needs, dreams not willing to be withheld, and compromises are added into the equation, often disrupting the peace by way of arguments and resentment. That's not to suggest every argument ends on poor terms and lack of resolution; in fact, occasional disagreements support healthy relationships. It's when the fighting becomes commonplace and unavoidable that a red flag should alert you and your partner it's time to make a change.
"Unhealthy relationships are more common than what we may think," Talia Wagner, Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle via email. Before you and your partner work your way into a challenging, dark point in your relationship, heed these words of advice on how to handle habitual arguments.
1. You Allow Issues To Manifest
You've heard it before, and you're hearing it again: Never let your head hit the bed with anger in your heart. Reason being, the moment you allow a problem to go unresolved, it creates space for the problem to grow and multiply.
Wagner explains it best, saying, "Unresolved core issues initially manifest as small disagreements, but left unsolved, these have the potential to grow in size and intensity. When arguments don't lead to resolution, people's frustration and dissatisfaction grows, breeding anger and resentment, and as such, a cyclical pattern of escalation develops very easily."
2. You Focus On What Irks You
Disagreements are inevitable in any relationship, romantic or otherwise, and as Wagner puts it, "Conflict is to be expected in all relationships and can be a good thing for relationship growth if handled appropriately." As Wagner further explains, however, negative arguments are more common than ones with positive end.
In that case, "When criticism and blame are more frequent than appreciation and validation, this can be indicative of a bigger problem," Wagner points out. Thus, rather than focusing on what bothers you about your partner, which can lead to these aforementioned negative behaviors and even further manifest into verbal abuse, identify what you value and appreciate. Allow the root of the issue to rise to the surface and address it head-on.
3. You Have A Tendency To Criticize
Furthering the previous point, Wagner elaborates, "Increasing positive interactions and acknowledgement can make criticism far less personal and even constructive." By digging into your partner with criticism of whatever may be bothering you, the disagreement becomes more emotionally-charged and ultimately feels like a personal attack.
Rather than reiterating your irritation, establish a solution and make the decision to turn your argument into an opportunity to be proactive and healing, rather than a venting session.
4. You Can't Have Civil Conversations About Hard Issues
If you and your partner don't end every disagreement in a handshake and weight lifted off your shoulders, you're not an anomaly. Wagner makes it a point to say, "Most fights heat up quickly and don't lead to solutions; they serve to get the air out, but all in all, are rather pointless." Wagner confirms, however, the best way to avoid escalating your arguments is to have a civil conversation in which you and your partner agree to walk away should the interaction take a negative turn.
"Have a plan to table the discussion until both parties can have a calm and respectful exchange, focused on actually resolving the issue. Make sure this happens, or issues will repeat themselves and continue to escalate at a later date," says Wagner.
5. You Foster The Tension
Similar to never going to bed angry, if you or your partner are avoiding issues entirely, you're creating an environment in which negative emotions thrive and continue to mount.
"Sweeping problems under the rug and avoiding the large and important issues just kicks the problems down the road and is a major problem in unhealthy relationships. This is how many couples cope with the constant fighting, thus creating a dynamic where both parties feel like they are walking on eggshells and the problems still remain unsolved," Wagner says.
Don't allow your feelings to be left unsaid. Speak up the moment tension begins to build.
6. You Don't Take Accountability
For couples looking to dissolve their problems, there is no space for stubborn behavior. As in every area of life, we should be accountable for our actions, whether good or bad.
"Each partner must take ownership of what they do to to contribute to the problem. Failing to be accountable for our part and consistently blaming our partner is a sure sign that the relationship will remain unhealthy and consistently lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness," Wagner tells Bustle.
7. You Aren't Completely Open And Honest
Honesty lays the foundation for a healthy relationship. If you can be completely open and honest with your partner without reservation, the two of you are able to initiate uncomfortable conversations, albeit not lacking understandable hesitation, and ultimately find compromise.
The honesty you share with a partner, however, should also resonate within, as Wagner says, "At the end of the day, being honest with yourself about your expectations of life and your personal happiness should lead to the answer of staying or leaving." A person who concretely knows what they want in a partner and life is less vulnerable to uncertainty in a relationship, especially one where conflict presents itself and it becomes easier to flee than fight.
8. You Can't Decipher Between Healthy And Unhealthy
To elaborate on the previous point, every individual has his or her idea of the "ideal" relationship. The qualities one person values in a partner will prove to be completely different from those another person values in his or her significant other. Even considering your own relationship, the characteristics and tendencies you love most in your partner are likely totally different from what your partner relies on in you.
Thus, each person has expectations, and when it comes to disputes, there is a place to draw the line between happy and unhappy; acceptable and unacceptable; healthy and unhealthy.
Wagner helps us to further understand this point, saying, "What we consider to be 'healthy' is usually a byproduct of our past experiences. This is comprised of what we saw at home growing up, as well as our own previous relationships. These experiences come together to form the baseline of what we consider to be 'normal' and that is usually a wide range. What may be normal and healthy for some, may be dysfunctional and unhealthy for others."
9. You're Desensitized To The Pattern
Know that there comes a time when fighting can turn into to a borderline abusive relationship, often crossing into dangerous territory without you or your partner realizing it. Become familiar with the signs of abuse to recognize their unwelcome access to your relationship.
"Any form of abuse, whether physical or emotional should make this decision an easier one, as these are serious warning signs and should be indicators that the relationship is a toxic one," Wagner confirms.
In love, where there is conflict, there can be a resolution. To allow problems to mount is to create a greater challenge for you and your partner to tackle, both together and independently. Resolve to deconstruct the bigger issues with long-term solutions over time, and find the benefit in bickering over the little things — if not for the make-up sex alone.