Having a bad fight with your partner can make you feel like everything is turned upside down. Especially if it's your first big one, the one that breaks you out of the love bubble. And I'll be honest, I basically broke up with a guy because our first fight was so terrible. I know, it seemed a bit rash... and maybe it was. Especially because I know that there are fights in virtually every relationship and, when done correctly, disagreement can actually help you get to know each other and grow.
"Arguments can even elevate relationships if they’re handled with tenderness and kindness," practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle. "When people feel less understood by their partner after an argument, they feel less happiness, but people who feel more understood by their partner don’t feel that happiness dip. If you confront upsetting issues in a real but kind way that takes your and your partner’s feelings into account, this creates far less weirdness than a drag-out fight in which two people are yelling at each other and trading snips, resentments, and insults."
And that's definitely how things work in my current relationship. We don't disagree often, but when we do we deal with it calmly and immediately. Those conversations can feel awful, but they always help. But what if it's not constructive? What if, like me with my ex, you think that the one fight was bad enough to end things — is that a good idea? Here's what the experts have to say.
Sometimes, It Is That Bad
Normally, the answer is no. "You should not generally break up after one fight," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "Fights are normal within a relationship and even the worst fight can be redemptive for a couple in terms of clearing the air or bringing up deep issues." And that may be the general rule, but there are some times when one fight reveals enough that you should just get out of the relationship.
"However, there are a few things that can come up in a fight that should make one consider a breakup," Hartstein says. "The biggest one is if your partner strikes you. It’s reasonable and probably smart to breakup with someone if they hit you in a fight. The other red flag during a fight is if they fight very dirty and call you names that are unacceptable to you. Otherwise fighting in and of itself is not a reason to jump quickly to a breakup."
Now to be fair to my ex, neither of those things happened in the one fight we had, but those are 100 percent things to end a relationship over — and a reason to seek outside support. For me, it was seeing someone lash out and get defensive, as well as telling a whole lot of unnecessary lies, in the middle of a fight that simply didn't have to be that big of a deal. He refused to calm down or meet in the middle — and to be honest I just found the whole thing not only worrying, but a huge turn off. Sometimes, even if it's just one fight, you see and learn enough about someone that you need to end it.
But If You Can Make Up, Do It
But as Hartstein said, that's extreme. If you just have a fight and the biggest problem is that you disagreed and got a little snappy with one another, it's probably not worth breaking up over. If there was behavior that you found a little worrying, take note of it, but then try to make up. Talk it over, find common ground, and then let yourself move on.
"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,” says Parker. "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." The quicker you deal with conflict, the more likely the disagreement will be kept under control— and maybe even be constructive.
Having your first fight or a big one can feel terrible, especially if you've been living in a love bubble and suddenly reality sets in. Maybe you thought you were different from other couples, but suddenly you're disagreeing like everybody else. But, unless there's really toxic behavior or something worrying, one fight may not be worth breaking up over.
Editor's Note: If you feel like you need help getting out of a relationship or figuring out what to do next, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You're not alone.