Look like this after your next fight

Turns out, conflict can bring you and your man closer – when you fight the right way, that is…

By Naomi Jaul

As he walks in the door, you’re ready to let rip. There’s no way “one” work drink takes two hours, and now you’re going to be seriously late for your best mate’s dinner party, the one she’s been planning all month.

Oh, you’ve had plenty of time to think what to say to that dickhead who dares call himself your boyfriend, and you’re about ready to tell him exactly where to shove his sorries. Ding ding: let’s get ready to rumblllllle!

Sound familiar? If you’re one half of a couple, it will. Scratch that; if you’re one half of a couple, it should. According to psychologist Les Parrott and his marriage therapist wife Leslie (yes, they really have the same name), arguments are one of the best ways to make a relationship stronger.

“Conflict is the price we pay for deeper intimacy,” explains Les. “A good fight brings couples closer.”

In fact, if you’re not fighting at all, you could have a bigger problem on your hands. “Couples who supposedly never fight are either redefining what fighting means or constantly walking on eggshells to avoid telling each other the truth,” the Parrotts say.

Fight club

Arguing is normal: the average couple will fight 312 times a year over things like work, money, housework and sex, according to a UK survey.

“Closeness creates confrontation because relationships come with built-in mirrors,” Leslie says.

“We’re seeing our behaviours, attitudes and motivations like never before. We give and receive feedback that can rub us the wrong way. Even so, this interchange makes us better as a couple. It heightens our self-awareness and makes us and the relationship more authentic.”

But there’s a difference between the types of fights happy and unhappy couples have.

“One telltale sign of a bad fight is that there’s a winner and loser,” says Les. “It means both people really lose, and that inevitably pulls couples apart.” No kidding: according to researchers at the University of Utah, 93 percent of married couples who fight dirty will divorce within 10 years.

On the other hand, “A good fight keeps a relationship fresh and authentic. There’s no need to tiptoe on eggshells – you can relax. There’s great comfort found in knowing your relationship can withstand some squabbles.”

House rules

How can you go from your repertoire of down-and-dirty squabbles to good, cleansing blow-ups? “You have to keep the C.O.R.E. of a good fight in mind: Cooperation, Ownership, Respect, and Empathy,” says Les.

“Here’s the good news: you only need one of these four elements to make the fight a good one.”

Let’s break that down, shall we? First up is cooperation. “The key to cooperation lies in reframing a conflict from win-lose to win-win. Don’t see it as some kind of competition.” Instead think of you and your partner as a team tackling a problem.

Next, ownership: saying buh-bye to the blame game and owning your part in a problem. “Blame exacerbates conflict,” says Les. They’re entitled to their emotions and views, after all.

Then there’s empathy – seeing things from your partner’s perspective. “It’s the most powerful and consistently rewarding action of love,” says Leslie.

In the ring

Making those principles work in real life will depend on what you’re fighting about. Chances are, it’s finances – on average, couples fight about cash three times per month.

“Money fights are rarely actually about money,” Les suggests. It’s more likely your conflict is about what cash represents: power, security, values and dreams. “Trace it back to the fear that’s fuelling the argument. Like fear of not having influence in important issues in your life, not feeling secure about your future, or not realising your dreams.”

If you’re in a really ragey fight, there is a way to turn it into an intimacy enhancing discussion. “Ask yourself two questions: how important is this issue to me? And, how ready do I feel to work on it right now?” Leslie advises.

“Often, what we fight about isn’t really what we’re fighting about. When we’re not aware of this it typically leads to a bad fight.”

If you’re hungry, tired or busy, drop it. “You can take a ‘time out’ and come back to the fight later. That can save a lot of heartache,” adds Leslie.

Just remember, you don’t have to be afraid of stepping into the ring: a good fight helps keep you and your relationship real.