The difference between a healthy argument and an unhealthy argument
- Contrary to what many couples think, fighting in a relationship isn’t always a red flag
- The key lies in identifying whether the fight is a healthy one or an unhealthy one, based on both the subject of the argument and the way you approach it
- Below are some strategies for identifying a healthy fight versus an unhealthy fight, and for approaching or avoiding them accordingly
A healthy fight should never get personal
A popular rule in the world of debates is that the second you stoop to personal insults, ad hominem attacks or mockery, you’ve already lost the argument. The same principles apply when it comes to fighting with a partner.
No matter how intense or passionate a disagreement gets, your partner should never resort to tactics that deviate from the topic at hand. If they divert to commenting on your appearance, mocking you for crying or trying to distract you with snide comments of any kind, the argument you are having will surely devolve into toxicity.
Not only is such behaviour callous, but it’s also a sign that a person cannot tell the difference between their opinion being questioned and a personal attack, and they feel the need to respond in kind.
As relationship therapist Alice Roberts said when talking to The Date Mix, “When a partner makes a personal attack or belittles, or shames you, it’s a sign… that they don’t know how to feel secure in a relationship where their partner has different opinions or likes.”
It’s healthy to fight to establish or maintain boundaries
Most couples tend to want to avoid fighting, but there are some situations in which fighting is not only permissible but necessary. As marriage and family therapist Kiaundra Jackson put it when speaking to Oprah Mag, “If a couple told me they never fight, then I would be worried.” Specifically, it is crucial to initiate a serious discussion if you feel as though your partner has violated a boundary that you have previously put in place.
For example, if you have communicated in the past that a friend of your partner was unkind or abusive towards you, and you and your partner have since mutually agreed to cut off contact with that person, it would be a betrayal for your partner to meet up with that person without telling you. In such a case, it would be essential to voice any distrust or hurt that you are feeling as a result.
The goal of such a discussion would be to voice your concern and reaffirm that boundary, without creating further resentment or making your partner feel unheard. Several techniques can be employed to stop an argument from becoming toxic; StyleCaster suggest breaking up the discussion with “acts of physical affection, pauses or contemplation before responding, and an attempt to make up after”.
A healthy fight should never rehash already-covered ground
The goal of any argument is to come to a satisfying resolution that appeases both parties, and puts the issue in question to bed. Why, then, do so many couples sabotage this progress by repeatedly bringing up resolved issues from old fights to use as ammunition in new arguments?
Bringing up something legitimately hurtful your partner has done in the past often makes it easier to win the current argument, as the guilt your partner feels at being reminded of their wrongdoing makes them more likely to concede to your point of view. However, just because your partner may have made upsetting mistakes in the past, it doesn’t mean that their concerns in every future argument are automatically invalid.
What’s more, bringing up topics and events that you have said were forgiven as if they are unresolved can seriously damage the level of trust in your relationships. As Elite Daily‘s relationship expert Dr Brown says, these dormant grievances “undermine trust and torpedo the ability to be truly vulnerable” when weaponised, as they prep your partner to feel defensive and afraid whenever a fight seems to be on the horizon. As a result, they may be more likely to hide bad behaviour rather than address it, and may feel that they cannot come forward with their own relationship concerns.
It’s healthy to fight to find a solution
At its heart, the function of any argument is to find a solution to a problem. Whether the issue is something small, like one person in a relationship always leaving their socks on the floor, or if there are bigger disagreements about the division of labour, how money is being spent or the correct timeline for having children, all couples will eventually run into subjects where their mindsets are not perfectly aligned.
Differing opinions don’t always have to signal that a relationship is doomed – in fact, many people are of the opinion that having different values adds spice and energy to a relationship. Whether that is true or not, arguments that arise as you try to figure out where you stand on major life milestones or important moral issues are usually completely healthy.
Discussing major topics such as money or children can be scary, and requires both partners to feel secure enough in the relationship to frankly state their differing positions. Not only that, but the fact that a discussion is happening at all actually points to both partners being invested in the longevity of the relationship, and in them having faith that a solution can be found. These are signs of a healthy relationship!
As relationship expert Kryss Shane puts it at The Date Mix: “Healthy fighting focuses on the individual situation at hand and pits the couple against the problem. This typically results in a resolution to the problem or at least a better understanding about why you feel as you do and why your partner feels as they do.”
A healthy fight should never play the blame game
Often, relationship problems seem to rest squarely on one person’s shoulders. From one partner being unfaithful, to them single-handedly destroying the finances of the household, to them simply not doing their fair share of household tasks, there are times when it seems like one person is more at fault.
With that said, on the whole, it is important to avoid the placing of blame in an argument. Even in situations where you feel your grievances are entirely valid, focusing on whose ‘fault’ it is, rather than how you can move through and out of the problem together, is unlikely to lead to a productive and healthy discussion.
Many people fall into the trap of wanting to feel vindicated and absolved of blame in an argument, rather than actually wanting to find a solution to the problem. If you are more focused on allocating blame, it is easy for an argument to become circular, with the disagreement becoming more about the minutiae or wrongdoing than any real progress.