How To Tell If The Fights In Your Relationship Are Toxic, According To Experts
It's almost always a painful process — but fighting with your partner doesn't have to be a toxic one. With good communication, fights can actually be constructive. "Without a doubt, communication is the most important skill to have in any relationship," Dr. Michele Kerulis, relationships and dating expert and professor at Counseling@Northwestern tells Bustle. "Communication allows us to voice our basic needs to others and also provides opportunities to approach topics like sex and romance, stress management, and conflict resolution."
But if your communication isn't on point, then your fights can do some real damage. Even if you have a strong relationship generally, if you fight badly then pretty soon that toxicity is going to seep into other areas of your relationship.
So if things seem dreamy a lot of time, but you occasionally have big blowouts that leave you shook, then you need to start paying attention. If you can learn to get your fighting under control, then you'll keep them from harming the rest of your relationship. So don't assume that all fights have to be terrible— sometimes, you can actually come out feeling good on the other side, because you managed to navigate something through together.
Here are the signs that your fights are toxic, even if your relationship is usually on-point.
1. You Aren't Specific
A fight just can't be yelling at each other about how you 'always' mess up or 'never' listen. You need specifics. “If they like to yell and that doesn't work for you, let them know why,” licensed psychotherapist and dating coach Pella Weisman tells Bustle. “Tell them how it feels, that it hurts your feelings, what it reminds you of from your family of origin.” Otherwise, comments sounds like character assassinations — and those can have lasting damage.
2. You Don't Make Up
Fights need to have an end. If you have a blow-out, then just simmer for a while before you move on, then it's still going to linger in the air and mess with you. "One of the best gifts you can give to yourself and your partner is to re-connect and restore harmony as soon as you can, rather than allow discord and fights to linger,” practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle. "When we allow fights to amplify, this is called negative affect reciprocity, and it predicts eroding happiness in a relationship. So aim to make up before a fight escalates."
3. You Say Things You Don't Mean
One of the most common ways fights can be awful is throwing out insults and saying things you don't mean in the heat of the moment. "Choose your words carefully, striving to be sincere and kind,” says Parker. "Don’t use tactics that tend to wound feelings and escalate friction, like insulting a partner, throwing the past in their face, yelling, inserting sarcastic zingers, making harsh, critical comments, pointing the proverbial finger and blaming, or checking out and not listening.” If you say something rash, you may realize you don't mean it, but that doesn't mean your partner won't take it to heart.
4. They're Always One-Sided
If one person is more shy, then the fights may always go one way. They can't just be one person constantly calling the other one out. "Each partner must take ownership of what they do to to contribute to the problem," Talia Wagner, Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "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." If it's only coming from one side, it's going to make your relationship uneven.
5. You Feel Bad About Your Behavior
If you act out of control in a fight, it can stick with you. "Even though we can share and hear anger and hurt without letting hostilities boil, it’s certainly not easy,” says Parker. "Try not to be too hard on yourself and welcome yourself to the human race. It can happen, and the key is bring the tension back down and get back to the business of making up and becoming closer."
If you're staying up at night thinking about something awful you said, then you need to re-work your fighting style.
6. You Fight All The Damn Time
"When criticism and blame are more frequent than appreciation and validation, this can be indicative of a bigger problem," Wagner says. It doesn't matter if you fight well, if you're always fighting then it can still be toxic. It can bring your whole relationship down.
7. You Don't Resolve Anything
The whole point of a fight is that you work it. If you don't, you're going to keep having the same issues — and maybe even the exact same fight— over and over. "Unresolved core issues initially manifest as small disagreements, but left unsolved, these have the potential to grow in size and intensity," Wagner says. "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." And if you're having the same fight over and over, it's bound to impact your relationship.
Some people fight dirty. No matter how good your relationship is, if your fights are out of control then it's going to catch up with you at some point. So make sure you're mindful — because what you say in the heat of the moment can come back to haunt you.