Wedding Undergraduate: Fighting

Eliza’s super empowering post about fighting seemed like a great way to lead into the holidays, because, lets be honest, is it even possible to make it through the high-stress holidays without a fight or two? (If you can, shhhhh! None of us mere mortals want to hear about it!) I’m blessed with a relationship where we’re comfortable fighting with each other. We have two kinds of fights: the blowing off steam fights, which don’t mean very much, and the really painful moving things forward fights. And the truth is, the world doesn’t have much to say about how amazingly helpful fighting has the potential of being. So without further ado, Eliza, and the power of the fight:

Last night my fiance and I were talking about the year – like a pre-NYE resolution look back, if you will. We do this most years in December, but this year it felt particularly huge. This has been the year we’ve gotten engaged, the year we’ve planned our wedding together. And at the start of the year, it was the year of being pre-engaged. This was a year in which I started a new job, and in which lots of my expectations about my career got turned upside down. 2010 has been a really huge year for us individually, and for our relationship. But what stood out, and what we wound up talking about, were the fights we’d had. Not petty squabbles or spats about being tired or whose way of stacking the dishwasher is the “right way”, but the important stuff.

Over the last four and a half years – but mostly since moving in together two and a half years ago – we have had big fights. We have fought about the way we live in our home. About space, and silence, and how to treat each other in certain situations. About family – our extended families, our birth families, how often we see them and how those occasions should go. We have fought about affection, about sex, about what our wedding should be like, about how it should be organised. (We don’t fight about money, but in this I think we are unusual.) More than anything else, we have fought about communication – how we communicate, what it means, and how we wish it worked, how we want it to work in the future.

And our relationship is freaking AWESOME, you guys. We are incredibly, stupidly happy together. In large part, because those fights? We resolved them. We don’t have the same fights over and over again. When something is an issue, we push and prod and pull at it until we figure it out, and then we stop fighting about it. Sure, some things come up again – but then, the old fight is a reference point. Because we fight fair – no name calling, no bitchiness (mostly), respecting each others views, not fighting when we’re tired – the fights we have are useful later on. It’s all part of one bigger conversation about the way we want to live together.

When I look back on the path of our relationship, the fights stand out. And not in a bad way. When I picture it in my mind, the fights are like monoliths. Looming, noticeable, permanent. They say, this is done. They say, you have figured this out now. They say, don’t go back this way. They point the way that the relationship should go from there onwards. They feel like achievements. Problems solved.

Fights can seem scary, impossible, signs that your relationship isn’t working, signs that it just sucks. And hey, sometimes they are, and I’m not discounting that. If you want opposite things out of life, or if you have diametrically opposed values, it may be time to reconsider. This is why having discussions or fights about those things before you get married is good – because you find out if that’s the case. But I think you probably already have a hunch that you have different values, if you do. If you’re brave enough to look those value disjuncts in the face, you will see them without even looking too hard. But it’s not one or the other – you can have a great relationship and fight a lot, or you can have a terrible relationship and never fight at all, because you sweep everything under the carpet and refuse to admit that you aren’t meant to be long term. (Don’t do that second one.)

I wish someone had told me early on that fighting about the things that are important to you is a normal part of figuring out how to live together and still love each other. Fights happen when you are figuring out how to take two people with different views and opinions and personalities and have them share a life. Early on, I almost ran away from the best relationship I’ve ever had and the person who loves me most in the world, because I was scared – because we had fights. Because we didn’t agree on everything. I thought that meant we could never be together forever. The opposite is true: a great relationship is one you have with someone who will fight well with you, healthily and fairly. So I’m telling you what I wish someone had told me: it’s okay. It’s normal. Keep breathing. Fight fair, fight logically, and come out the other side. In the end, it will feel not just better – it will feel really good.

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  • Thank you. This is fantastic.
    Funnily enough, I had lunch with a friend of mine today who was concerned about the fact that she and her boyfriend were fighting, because she’d never been a relationship where that had happened before, and was scared it meant something was fundamentally wrong. I said a lot of what you’ve written, Eliza, though not half so eloquently – so I think I might just send her this way. Thank you.

  • YES!

    I can’t second this enough. I have been so blessed with a partner who does this and encourages me to do it. I was raised to “stuff” and I did, to the danger of myself. Learning how to fight constructively is something that has benefited my relationship hugely, and is also important in my professional life and other relationships.

    This post is GENIUS.

  • ‘A great relationship is one you have with someone who will fight well with you, healthily and fairly.’

    Exactly! My engagement recently ended with a great guy who I had been with for 5 years, and I can say one of the reasons was fighting, or lack of it. We didn’t fight often, but we probably should have.

    Fighting is just one form of communication, but such an important form of expressing your needs, your wants. It really demonstrates the type of partners you are when you can intimately and passionately discuss what you’re needing and not getting, what you’re doing wrong or doing right, and the best course of action moving forward.

    So many attribute arguing to the downfall of relationships, but really, it’s HOW you argue that contributes to the downfall. Partners who are matched, who fight well and with concern and with the intention to make things better are working towards a loving and beautiful thing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • “When I look back on the path of our relationship, the fights stand out. And not in a bad way. When I picture it in my mind, the fights are like monoliths. Looming, noticeable, permanent. They say, this is done. They say, you have figured this out now. They say, don’t go back this way. They point the way that the relationship should go from there onwards. They feel like achievements. Problems solved.”

    This, exactly.

    I struggle sometimes to explain to my friends that Eric and I do fight sometimes, because our fights don’t involve name-calling and yelling (although I usually cry). And on the surface they can seem to be about tiny, insignificant things, but those are the instigators – we often use situational allegories to express larger, fuzzier concepts. But we fight all the same, and I’m incapable of letting things go until their resolved, so we don’t have (many) repetitive things that come up.

    The most memorable one ever was the day after we moved in together, and I freaked out because Eric took too much cereal. “You can’t eat that much cereal! That is TWO CUPS of granola!” The fight wasn’t about granola; it was about sorting out how two lives were going to be so closely intertwined, and what our boundaries would be in terms of the other person’s behaviour. And after we had sorted everything out, we shared the bowl of very soggy granola.

    • Yes, we sometimes have fight about ridiculous things (uh…ice cream?) but it often turns out that what we are actually fighting about is about something else entirely. We just have to get down to what the real reason is. :)

  • A fantastic issue to address, particularly the point about being able to move forward from fights. Sometimes it’s important to get major feelings out and hash out emotions. My fiance and I have had a handful of fights (never real fights, with shouting and name-calling, but more emotional discussions) and after each one we feel like we’re in a better place because we’ve gone over something that’s been frustrating/scaring/upsetting us. Otherwise you just end up storing that emotion and keeping grudges and never letting go or making amends.

  • Mary Jo

    What a great post! This is the way fighting SHOULD work in every relationship! Of course it’s no fun when you’re in the middle of it, but once you’ve had a few productive fights and can remember how you’re better off for each of them, that sense of perspective can really help you through it!

    For the most part our fights work this way. We just had a silly tiff this weekend, and figured out that the root cause was that we were both really stressed because our house was a disgusting mess and people were coming over this week, so we spend almost all day Sunday cleaning up! It even triggered some good discussions on chores and division of labor in the house.

    Thanks again for putting into words what we’re all going through!

  • pixie_moxie

    Thank you for this! It is a nice reminder that we all have our moments of intense communication that help to define us. Thank you for being willing to talk about it.
    My Fiance and I have had several “learning to live with each other” fights since moving in together almost a year ago. After nearly everyone I ask if he still loves me to which he laughs and responds “of course silly, why wouldn’t I.”

    My previous engagement broke down because of the fights, they weren’t mean fights but brought to light issues we were not addressing in daily life. One person looking for ways to make it better while the other looking for evidence as to why it wouldn’t work.

    I struggle sometimes not to associate the two relationships with each other. Our fights are different. Our intense communication comes with the fact the my partner and I are working hard to bring our lives together. Not looking for reasons we aren’t compatible but how to make our differences work together stronger.

    • Christine

      Fighting to bring your life together means fighting to overcome everyday things. For these are the hardest, most repetitive, and important. These bring you one hurdle over compared to fights over who should work where next or where you should stay next.

  • Christen

    This is wonderful, and a little funny. We have fights, huge fights, mind-blowing fights. We go to bed mad, but wake up with a new point of view in the morning. We don’t fight over the holidays, but that’s because they’re already too painful and emotional for us as is, and adding a fight would just be horrid. And the same rings true for us, that looking back, our fights stand out. Some have been pretty gnarly, some more just emotionally wrenching. But all have made us closer, made us come to understand one another better. Made us realize that just because we’re ridonkulously head-over-heels it doesn’t mean we won’t have moments of disgust, disdain or complete frustration. And it’s OK, because it helps us maintain our own individuality while still molding our relationship.

    I don’t love fighting, but I do love what the fights accomplish. I love that with each fight we know a bit more about each other, we work a little harder to love each other and we still maintain the me vs the we.

  • Jill

    Thanks for this post. It’s very timely for me because I had the HUGEST fight with my fiance on Monday. There was definitely bitchiness from all parties involved (pretty rare for us, thankfully). But in a way I really liked having it because it was the first majorish fight we’d ever had where I didn’t feel that “oh no it’s all going to be over” anxiety. Maybe it’s just because we’re pretty close to our wedding, but I was more relaxed through the whole thing, which I think helped us fight better later. (Yes, this was a multi-day fight!) It was less “oh no oh no relationship danger” and more “well this is a piss-off but I made my bed and this guy is it, how do we move on?” Later when we did a post-game recap he told me he felt the same.

    At one point we paused the fight and had this conversation:

    Me: I think this is the biggest fight we’ve ever had. My conflict resolution skills are not up to this, I don’t know what to do!

    Him: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever had a fight like this.

    Me: I don’t think I’ve had a fight like this with anyone. Well…not anyone I kept speaking to afterward.

    Us: PAUSE. Hysterical laughter.

    Him: That’s not really an option here. What are you going to do, de-friend me on Facebook? “Hey honey, pass me a towel.” “YOU CAN’T SEE MY PROFILE, DON’T LOOK AT ME”

    While funny to both of us, it didn’t solve the fight. It DID remind me that I love this man to death and that our goal was to move on, together. So we did. (After much discussion and subsequent fighting – life is not a romantic comedy!)

    • Ah Jill I LOVE this!! That sounds like a conversation we would have, too!

      I had a similar feeling when we got engaged, as well, of “OH. Well now fights can’t really be dealbreakers in this way, because, well, we’ve decided we’re never breaking up, right? So… that’s not going to be the end of this fight! Awesome!” There was an incredible sense of calm that came with that realisation – I think it’s much easier to get through fights when you don’t feel like it’s possible that they’ll end with the destruction of something so huge as your whole relationship!

  • What an amazing post, Eliza! Thank you! My fiance and I are freakishly similar – right down to fighting about loading the dishwasher the “right” way (my way) and also because we also never fight about money (something I cherish because I think couples that fight about money split up over money).

    I love the idea of embracing fighting if you do it once, learn from it, know your spouse’s needs, put that issue it its place, and never fight about it again. We’re mostly on this method ourselves but it’s interesting to think of that before you fight – ok, let’s hash it out, and then be totally done with it.

    Kudos to you and happy holidays!

  • rachel

    “Fight fair, fight logically, and come out the other side. In the end, it will feel not just better – it will feel really good.”

    For real. I watched my parents fight dirty, with name-calling, nasty sarcasm, and hurtful over-generalizations. I resolved early on in life not to fight that that way with anybody. My boy and I fight fair, and it does feel good. We communicate about everything, and that feels amazing. Occasionally, when I’m feeling particularily PMS-y, I might fall back to a few of those bad habits, but the hurt-puppy-dog eyes in my husband’s face reminds me that I crossed a line. After a fight, we almost always feel better about our relationship, more committed, and more in love.

    P.S. “I’m sorry/I was wrong/I shouldn’t have done that” are beautiful phrases that tends to patch up nastiness :)

  • Wow! Thank you! That is such a briliant post. I think it is SOOO true. I especially appreciate the image and concept of the fights being the monoliths or as I like to think of them, breadcrumbs you leave behind to mark where you came from. It is so important to dispell the myth that well matched partners don’t fight. Thank you for shedding a bit of light here. Happy New Year!

  • Jillian

    Thank you for this post. What a great topic for all us undergraduates to think about. Fighting ocurs within all relationships, and as you wisely pointed out, if it’s not happening you’re probably sweeping it from view which is bad.
    Moving in together is a huge step, and sometimes it does cause more arguments because there’s a lot you don’t know about a person until you live with them and have to see them EVERY SINGLE DAY. I will say that yeah, of course some squabbling will occur, but what I’ve found from my experience is that we resolve things quicker. You’re less likely to say hurtful things when you can see the other person vs. arguing over the phone. And you can’t just hang up and turn off the phone either. Sometimes when the fiance and I fight, when we’ve both had enough we’ll just end up hugging each other. No apologies needed, just someone initiates a hug and then we can quietly discuss any issues with some cuddling.

  • This is a topic that always makes me feel a little uncomfortable, to be honest. My fiance and I don’t really fight. We have huge discussions, sure, we get edgy with each other and figure out what the deep down issue is, and we both have times when we need a little time away (like, I need to go to the grocery store by myself because I’ve spent the last two days with you and I need a little time for myself). But we don’t fight. And when I read things like this, I need to remember that my relationship can be just as healthy without the fighting as a couple that does fight all the time, as long as we both go about it in a healthy way.

    We definitely don’t stuff things under the carpet and ignore them and just wait for them to explode. We talk about the issues as they happen, and figure out how to deal with them better the next time. But just because we don’t fight, it doesn’t mean our relationship isn’t healthy or lasting.

    I don’t think this (incredibly awesome) post is in any way trying to make anyone feel bad about how they fight or if they fight at all, but I just wanted to throw it out there that, yes, fighting is good and healthy, but you can have a great relationship without that too.

    • meg

      I don’t think she was saying that you’re unhealthy if you don’t fight. Remember, posts about people’s experances have to be specific, and I try to urge us not to overgeneralize from them. Fights are healthy, that doesn’t have to mean that all couples must fight.

      • Right, but that’s why I was pointing it out that some couples fight and some don’t, just so we could have that out in the air. Jillian, who posted above me, said “Fighting occurs within all relationships, and as you wisely pointed out, if it’s not happening you’re probably sweeping it from view which is bad.” Those types of generalizations scare me a little and I just wanted to help create that safe space for all types of relationships. I think this article is very well written and even though I don’t find personal truth in the majority of it, I can definitely see the general truth in it. This stuff is so important to discuss, and I’m so glad we have a safe space to do that in.

      • Unless there is yelling, we call it a conflict.

        • meg

          How boring ;) We ALWAYS call it a fight. They are so helpful for letting off steam, why not?

    • Though whenever we have disagreed, my fiance sets up a really safe space for us to work it out and I think that’s so important. Once, I almost stepped in dog poop and he pulled me out of the way and then I yelled at him for trying to control me as a woman and being patronizing. Or something. (This was right after we moved in together for the first time.) And we had a good long talk about it, got by our house, and he suggested that we keep walking so that our discussion didn’t enter our house. So we walked for two more hours until we sorted things out, came home, drank some wine, and went to bed.

      • Ah, yes! Thankyou for this point – I didn’t go into this really but I think it just depends on definitions. You say potato, I say potahto – if I looked at the kind of fights that happened in my family when I was growing up and applied that definition of fight to my relationship? Then we don’t ever fight. It just depends how you see it. I guess my definition of fight in my relationship has turned into, “us dealing with the things we disagree about when the disagreement upsets us” – but your comment-then-long-walk experience below? Would have been a fight in my definition in my relationship (and has been, we’ve had similar walk and talk it out experiences.)

        It’s about resolving the conflicts that occur – if you can do it without ever doing the things that most people associate with fighting (anger, crying, raised voices, etc) then you’re doing amazing things in your relationship! The fact that you feel like you have a safe space to sort things out is an incredible blessing and so useful – yay!

        • Eliza and Kinkie – thank you for this perspective!!

          While reading, I was composing a comment about what others’ definitions of the word “fight” means, and what my definition of “fighting” is.

          Growing up, there were lots of fights. Usually involving a lot of yelling and criticisms and throwing things. I used to do that with an ex and hated my behavior. And it was horrible. We didn’t fight fair. Or healthily. Or lovingly (yes, I think fights can be loving).

          Reading the post (really wonderful and eloquent, btw) and these particular comments, has helped me realize that fighting doesn’t *have* to be nasty or mean. It can be disagreeing and it can feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to feel unsafe or unfair. And in that sense, I’m happy to know that for myself, I have learned how to fight fairly, healthily and lovingly… and I feel amazingly fortunate that my husband does as well.

          Thank you ladies for continuing to challenge my thinking and encouraging growth. :-)

    • sophia

      Also, I think it’s important to define what we mean as a “fight”. For some people, an edgy discussion is their fight. I remember a conversation of my mother and father in law (happily married for 30ish years):
      Mother in law says something about the kitchen cabinet door
      FIL: this is what our last fight was about
      MIL: Don’t be silly. We’ve never had a fight

      • meg

        I think, actually, it’s pretty important to NOT define what we mean by fight. Every couple is different, every couple fights differently, every couple defines fighting differently, and fights change over time. This is all as it should be. So do I want us to define what we mean by fighting? No, unless you’re defining it with your partner.

        • emilyrose

          i took sophia’s comment to suggest that we, individually and within our relationships, know what we define as a “fight” – not that this APW discussion should be working to define “fight.”

          the point being, maybe kinzie (and others like her) are tackling similar issues in similar ways to eliza (and others like her), but they happen to categorize “fight” and “discussion” differently. personally, eliza’s description of her “fights” was really resonant with me – though i could see someone observing my relationship and saying we never fight, but do have intense discussions.

          the labels aren’t always clear-cut. as exemplified by sophia’s little story of her 30-years-married-parents-in-law, hah.

        • of course there’s no call to be dogmatic – but there is a problem with having, basically, no broadly understood definition of the word “fight” in the context of relationships (or maybe there is one and i’m just out of the loop ;).

          the thing is, i don’t fight. by my definition, of course – but the idea of it (in my life, not yours!) makes me absolutely panicky, physical symptoms and all. i wouldn’t survive a relationship with fights, it would tear me apart, because for me there is no good fight.

          the problem i have, is that i don’t know what people mean when they say “fight.” so i feel like i’m lying when i tell friends that we don’t fight (but i would certainly be lying if i told them we do!), because they *always* manage to take away from that “we never disagree, our relationship is 100% peaches and cream.” untrue! but i don’t know how to combat that without going into the nitty-gritty stuff – which i am typically unwilling to do, as a fairly private person (or saying we do fight, which is, to me, an outright lie).

          so, we don’t fight, but we certainly have issues, and we have messy ways of resolving them that hurt – and there is usually lots of crying. just, you know, keep that in mind if you’ve got wierdo pacifist friends (and please don’t tell them “oh, so you *do* fight!” =)

          • meg

            Well, I think by the working definition of most of us, and the writer, you can consider your non-fights fights for the context of this post.

            My two cents is that the word fight (or the fight itself) is nothing to be scared of, it’s something to be relished. As long as you can be safe with each other, those disagreements that end in tears are amazing and fantastic. You grow, you let off steam, you practice being safe together. We try to have one every few weeks, whatever you want to call it. It’s like a good cry, you feel SO MUCH BETTER afterwards. Maybe if you try to re-frame it for yourself as awesome and necessary it will seem much, much less scary :)

    • Totally agree. We don’t really fight. We aren’t shoving things under the rug and not resolving our problems. We most definitely don’t always agree. It’s just for us… discussions don’t turn into fights.

      And although the post initially made me nervous, I’m glad to see a different perspective. I kind of always assume fighting means a bad relationship (because that has been my experience). But it seems for the vast majority of couples (and perhaps us someday!), a little fighting helps works out the wrinkles in their relationship! So thank you for that!

    • I think the term “fight” is relative. It doesn’t have to be a brawl or leave anyone devastated and in tears. It can be a heated or “edgy” discussion. It is all relative.

      • Of course it’s all relative. We just don’t fight by our definition. And as many have pointed out, we can’t really define “fight” here as it varies so much from couple to couple. I, however, would say a fight is a step up from a discussion. But of course, every couple also will have they’re own definition for the term discussion! So of course… it’s still all relative!

        • meg

          Again, within the context of this post, your discussion is Eliza’s fight (or my fight, for goodness sakes). So just re-write the post for yourself and put discussion in the place of fight, and then it will make perfect sense.

  • Thank you, thank you! You have put into words what I’ve always suspected about our fighting. We don’t do it a lot, but when we do, they are usually pretty intense, and about the serious subjects you mentioned – namely, values, etc. It’s great to hear that this happens for other people and be reaffirmed that it is *healthy*! Akin to the recent post about the honeymoon-period-that-was-not, I think that there is a lot of pressure out there to be that perfect couple that never fights, especially in the beginning. But I think the beginning (both pre- and post-wedding) is when you should be having the tough talks. Because if you let things go, well, then they explode all over the place years later and it’s a lot more messy to clean up (sadly, while we were getting hitched, a couple good friends of ours were getting divorced, largely as a result of a lack of communication). Fights aren’t fun, but for goodness sakes, do it!!

  • Morgan

    There is SUCH a difference between fights that work to a resolution, and fights that can never be resolved. Having ended a relationship over the latter, I’m so so happy I’m now married with the former. We don’t fight often, but when we do, it’s generally pretty calm and we lay out the issues and talk them through. Sure, there may be tears, but there’s no screaming, demeaning or meanness.

    It’s been a little hard for me to change my fighting style so drastically. I used to throw things and slam doors in a desperate attempt to be listened to. I’m been surprised how easy it’s been to say, “hey, this is really bugging me” and then we can work on it.

    Also, I try to have those conversations when no one’s wearing pants, because it’s harder to get angry (not mad, angry) when you’re lying in bed with no pants. :)

    • ML

      your no pants tactic – brilliant. absolutely brilliant.

      • Morgan

        It works. Unless the fight about something truely ugly, it’s easier to head to bed and talk it out (without pants). It’s harder to be rage-full when you’re half naked and horizontal. (I know it helps that most of our disagreements are about things like who does what around the house – we can reach compromises without excessive anger.)

    • Darcy

      I once herd some awesome advice if you are always having the same argument over and over again (usually happening in the same place all the time such as the kitchen or car). Take the argument into the most ridiculous place you can think of. Go to the garage, stand in the bathtub together or go for a walk. Sometimes taking it into a different environment will illustrate how much of a rut the conversation has fallen into and will let you get to the meat of the matter quickly.

  • LC

    Hmmm, I think I maybe have a different definition of “fights.” I seriously can barely remember the fights we’ve had as they are few and far between but we communicate constantly about the things you’ve mentioned. I think I just don’t consider us “fighting” but “discussing.” What makes it a fight?

    • B

      I don’t think it really matters what you call it! For some people fights involve raised voices etc where for others a disagreement that gets worked out amicably enough is a fight. I think the more important thing is that you deal with issues as they get unearthed, not what you call the process!

      In my relationship I’m as fiery as The Boy is laid back, so I tend to complain that he’ll never ‘fight’ properly with me and always makes me calm down and ‘discuss’ things! Whatever it is it gets our issues resolved so it must be a good (if sometimes painful) thing :)

  • Steph

    “More than anything else, we have fought about communication – how we communicate, what it means, and how we wish it worked, how we want it to work in the future.”

    I want to exactly this post! my boyfriend and I have been together for 2 and half years and moved in about 4 months ago. I think our fights are so important and the fact that we have had been able to fight respectfully since the beginning has made the living together transition so much smoother.

    In our fights, we often come back to how we communicate. We are very different with very different styles. He is cool headed and will sometimes back down when faced with my hot temper and passion. Its important for us to think about these differeneces to make sure that his voice is heard. I think its so important to be intentional with these conversations.

    but if i had to say what i love the most about us is our communication and ability to talk even about the hard things. Its far from easy and we might not get it right the first time, but i love that we try and keep trying.

  • Krista

    This post is amazing! It’s one of those APW posts that’s very truthful and blunt, that makes me realize that my experiences are just like many other women. I truly appreciate that this post showed up on the site today, as for the past couple months now my boyfriend and I have been fighting a lot. Like, big fights about how we treat each other in the relationship and how to live together happily when we both have different needs. It’s been a struggle, and I’ll admit that every time we have one I run to my girlfriends freaking out because we had ANOTHER fight and that I was sure it meant we weren’t compatible for the long term. However, after reading Eliza’s words I feel much more secure in my own relationship as well as my own experiences within it, including the fighting.

    That is why I love this site and the women who constitute it. These are the things that aren’t generally spoken about so reading about everyone’s experience makes me feel more secure in my own, which makes me more confident in my relationship. Thank you so much, Eliza!

  • suzanna

    Very important subject, thank you for airing it out in such an eloquent way! I wish I could say that my boyfriend and I have got this one figured out, but we’re still working on it. We’re still learning to not take things personally, to not name-call, to not be sarcastic, to not over-generalize. All the things you’re not *supposed* to do, right? For us, I feel like we see the goal (healthy fights) and are working towards it, and there has been definite improvement along the way. I wish it was something that we could just decide to do well and pow! it’s done and we’re geniuses of communication from now on. But no. It’s a long, hard trail for two bull-headed people.

    So here’s to all of us who aren’t quite there yet, but are darn sure we’ll get there someday!

  • I’m in love with this post.

    It’s everything I want to say about the gritty bits of communication that I can never quite get out without sounding like I’m in a wretched relationship that is destined for failure.

    Thank you!

  • RK

    Thank you for writing this post! I totally agree–fighting/arguing is a normal part of a relationship, it’s when you fight and can’t come to resolution that there is a problem. Working through disagreements is what helps you grow together in a relationship.

  • Thank you! Our intense discussions/arguments/fights/whatever you call it, have definitely pushed us in the right directions in our relationship and forced us to figure out what we want from each other and what we want in general.
    One of our biggest involved whether to live together before getting married or not and it forced both of us to re-evaluate our expectations of our future and relationship. It made us face some of our fears. For me, a fear was not living together and not having a chance to learn more about this person before marrying. I was uncomfortable with making such a commitment and not ready. It forced me to face my commitment issues. He wanted to be married before living together because he wanted to know I was committed to the relationship and because he’d lived with someone before that hadn’t worked out.
    We both stood our ground for most of the night but that fight (and the makeup later) made us realize that we had some talking to do, some compromising and that we were both willing to continue on from there. Even though I “won” that argument (we now live together) I don’t like the idea of “winning” a fight and it made me realize my assumptions about our relationship needed to be altered. It made me grow and learn.
    One thing I also love about him is that after we both cool off we can say we’re sorry and talk about it and love each other. He doesn’t freeze me out or hold grudges. Neither do I, mostly.

    • Oh, and no matter what, I always cry. I wish I didn’t but I do. I feel as if I’m being unfair to him when I cry because he feels like he’s being put in the bad guy role when really I don’t feel that way at all. I’m working on not taking everything as personally, or as though this is THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP. Maybe that will help the crying?

      • “Oh, and no matter what, I always cry. I wish I didn’t but I do.”

        Ha, I wish I could get better at this too. I need a little sign to hold up that says, “Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure this crying is just a way for me to process emotions. I’m not actually as devastated as it looks like I am. Carry on.”

        • Rasheeda

          @ Annie’s comment YES PLEASE!! Maybe we can get it in a tee-shirt form and we just go put on our uniform before the fight/discussion/argument/thingy gets going.

        • Milla

          Oh, I need that t-shirt— not for me to wear but for my partner! She’s a crier and I am emphatically not one unless it’s serious (or during movies), and so I’ve had the hardest time adjusting to that. The bigger problem was that I saw crying as something manipulative, when it was mostly just a physiological reaction to stress. But now I’ve seen that she cries at everything stressful, including talking to her doctor in some cases! I think that’s an important thing to remember— we’ve all been culturally conditioned to think that crying means something (romance-novel weepiness, end-of-relationship, something to be pitied), and while it certainly DOES sometimes, it doesn’t always.

          • Lethe

            this is totally us too!

      • Jill

        My fiance has actually said this “you always cry and then I’m the bad guy” thing to me, because, well, I DO always cry. I told him I cry when I’m upset, angry or sad. So basically, whenever we fight I will most likely cry, I can’t help it, and please try to treat me like a regular human instead of a weepy lady from a romance novel. I think he’s getting better at not automatically feeling like a pile of crap because I’m crying during a fight. This one is hard though!

      • I’m a “cryer”, too! No matter how little (or big, obviously) the issue, I’m usually sniffling away throughout the whole thing. My partner has yet to become de-sensitised to it, but I think he’s going to have to if he’s ever going to be able to get through a discussion/argument without feeling like a bad person for “making” me cry!

  • shotgun shirley

    Wonderful post! All of this rings true. Healthy fighting is so important. We both came from families where fighting was unhealthy. His dad would give his mom the silent treatment for months at a time; they divorced. My parents, while generally loving, (still) have door-slamming, name-calling blow outs. At our Engaged Encounter, fighting was one of the features we did NOT want to continue from our families of origin.

    We fought a lot early on and seriously considered breaking up multiple times, and I think those early times set us on a strong foundation. There are still things to figure out – there always will be – but if we fight right, we’ll get there.

    And yeah, the definition of fighting will be unique for each couple. It’s sometimes unique for each fight – some of ours have had tears, for a few we were embracing the whole time, for some there’s grinding of teeth, for others there is calm and logical discussion. The important thing, I think, is just getting the issue(s) out there.

  • I always tell people that Jason has the healthiest perspective on fighting that I’ve ever come across and that’s partly why I married him. (I do not have a good approach to conflict, having grown up in a household where we either swept things under the rug or fought in really hurtful and non-productive ways.) Case in point, the first big fight we had as a couple when we were dating, I’m sitting there in tears thinking “Does this mean we’re over? Why are we fighting?” and he stops in the middle of what he’s saying, looks at me and goes, “Wow, I’m so glad we’re having this fight. We’re going to be so much close and understand each other so much better once it’s done!” I looked at him like he’d sprouted three heads, but now, after three years of being with this man, I know exactly what he meant by that.

    Eliza is so, so right. Fights can be incredibly good, growth-causing things if they are undergirded by the attitude of “We’re a team.” Or, as one of my wise lady friends told me when we got engaged, “Married fighting means standing back to back facing the wolves that life sends you. For heaven’s sakes, aim at the wolves.”

    • “Aim at the wolves” is very good advice! :)

  • LPC

    I’m on the other side of divorce. And truer words were never said. My marriage ended over fights that didn’t happen, or fights that never finished. Learn to fight. Learn now. And I’ll come to your 50th wedding anniversary.

  • Bravissima! This is so spot-on. Thank you for sharing, for giving us something to think about, and for reminding us that it’s ok!

    My partner and I have very different communication styles (I used to say “he doesn’t, I mostly do”), and we’re still working out how we’re going to make them match up. We’re both getting better at the “when you say X, it makes me feel Y, because it sounds to me that you’re saying Z” thing. It’s a long process, but obviously worth it!

  • Abby C.

    “Married fighting means standing back to back facing the wolves that life sends you. For heaven’s sakes, aim at the wolves.”

    Love it! LOVE IT! Big stuff on APW this week, I swear.

    I think what helps keep fights on the side of “We’re working to make our lives better” is to know thyself, and to communicate this to your partner. You can pre-empt alot of hurt feelings when you’re fighting by being able to clearly say what you need from your partner.

  • Jen

    “Married fighting means standing back to back facing the wolves that life sends you. For heaven’s sakes, aim at the wolves.”

    ok. now THAT made me tear up. Clearly I am a crier too.

  • This is so true. Thank you, Eliza. My husband and I fight, too, but our fights have gotten more about “let’s fix this together” instead of fight or flight. But yes, we wonder about people who never fight, because how are things resolved? I think fights are healthy, as long as they are get resolved to at least some extent. But yes, fights are healthy, and they are ok. Thank you for writing about this so eloquently.

  • Rachel T.

    I needed to hear that. I came home and launched into a fight with my soon-to-be-fiance (that’s a whole other issue on its own) just an hour ago. The holidays are tough, I’m having PMS, and there are also legitimate things on my mind. He’s in law school; I’m a full-time high school teacher in an urban school. He has been off all week; I am dealing with crazy high school kids who just want to be on break already but are still in classes. We have basically finished planning our wedding, but he refuses to call us engaged until he’s formally proposed with a ring, which as been financially difficult, and he promised we would be engaged before Christmas so as you can imagine, but I’m becoming really restless about it.

    Needless to say, I’m a little frazzled and looking forward to time off. He wants to stay with his family for almost a week. His family stress me out, honestly. There’s always a lot of fighting there, fights that have been had before and will be had again, between he and them. It’s never about me, but I always end up having to sit uncomfortably through them. I have never been comfortable when it comes to telling him those issues I have with visiting his family. Today, because it’s almost Christmas and therefore I’m exhausted, I snapped and unloaded at him about it. He seemed shocked, naturally, and then we talked (fought) about it.

    I’m a weird fighter and always have been. I don’t like screaming and yelling. I can be a bitch, but I also always know I’m being a bitch and am the first one to call myself out for it. He tends to like to just agree with what will make me happy, and ironically, I refuse to let him. I want him to say what he wants and how he feels about a situation, not just give me my way. I want, just like Eliza is saying, to work through things and move forward, in a positive direction, in our relationship. Did we resolve something today? Yep. Because I pushed and pulled until I felt like something was solved, that I was heard but that I also heard what he had to say, not what he thought he was supposed to say.

    I will say, I am rarely comfortable fighting, but I am learning just how important it is. Getting mad can get you somewhere, if you want it to.

    • Tricia

      My husband does the exact same thing and it drives me nuts. He really hates conflict and is not good at expressing what he wants (and sometimes doesn’t even really seem to know what he wants) so he tends to just try and do whatever I want. Sometimes that is ok when it is little things or something that he really doesn’t have strong feelings about, but sometimes I have to really push him to voice an opinion because I think it is important for him to get what he wants and needs too. Moreover, I find myself trying to guess what he wants and give it to him which ironically means that sometimes his eagerness to give me what I want means I don’t feel comfortable expressing what I want and need and no one ends up really happy. Who knew living with someone who is eager to please could be so frustrating.

  • Another couple of fighters here… snap to Eliza’s post. Fighting diffuses the tension, makes us both look forward, and then feel more comfortable in each other’s company.

  • Christine

    A year ago I was prepared to hate the man who walked out on me. Now I am thankful everyday that I see him everyday and he calms me and validates the changes I have gone through. Some days he is open and vulnerable to me too, some days he’s closed off. And having gone through the fights, I understand that.
    I did not have a heart, he gave me a piece of his. I moved into a freezer when I couldn’t move in with hi
    and the heart froze. The year that he left I slowly thawed it with tears and found the heart is big- to forgive and reflect.
    We used to resolve talk and grow. Due to my own circumstances I caved in to a lot of crying. My friends all hardened by failed relationships or none, told me to bolt. For 2 out of the 4 years we were, he tried his truest to work everything out, while I continued to be pushing him further away by all that crying. My fighting was outward visible but inactive, his fighting was silent and gentle but moving.
    We reached the end and I didn’t even see why until I took the year to reflect and pray- I had been unable to contribute to the relationship because I didn’t know the importance of fighting WHEN the issue is important enough for both of you, when what you wish to achieve from it. When I fought with crying, I was giving up and relinquishing myself and making him take responsibility for me. To me now, a year later, I find the cornerstone to every thing – relationship, job, school, to work is first knowing yourself first. When that foundation is set right, you would know why the fight is important and how to fight right. As you put ‘we’ as your priority, with a strong understanding of ‘me’, you know the only thing worth fighting for is to get over the hurdle together with compromise but not losing yourself. Unless compromise equates losing your identity, never give up and walk away.

  • I’ve been kind of switching back to lurker status for the past few weeks because I’ve been so damn busy, but I have to come out here and say, as we’re getting married in 5 days and things are particularly dramatic right now, I REALLY NEEDED THIS POST.

    Thank you.

    • FIVE DAYS! Holy cow! :D

      You’ll come back and tell us all about it, yes/yes?

  • p.s. this post was really awesome and smart

  • RachelLyn

    This is my first comment after lots of lurking.

    My partner and I don’t fight. In a year and a half we have had tough conversations and been upset with each other, but have never had what I would call “a fight.” Maybe it’s that I work in peacebuilding and he works in negotiations, and we are just good communicators and compromisers, but I have never felt that we needed to have a fight. Which is great, right?

    But somehow I worry (and fantastic posts like this help me to worry) that we should be fighting or that we will, eventually, have a fight and that having not fought before, we won’t necessarily be compatible fighters. I worry that, once we are married we might have a fight and go “Woah! What am I doing here?” I worry that we are not fighting because we have not come across anything big enough to fight about. And I wonder how I can get over that.

    • Peacebuilding and negotation backgrounds…?! Wow, that’s cool. I am going to venture that you guys will have a great skill set between you to work through those disagreements/fights/whatever if or when a big, new one comes up.

  • What an amazing, amazing post! I wrote a similar post recently being a blogger for With all of the amazing wedding photographs, love stories, and engagement photos, oh, and being a wedding photographer myself I forget that real life isn’t like that your wedding photos. Real life is about figuring out your issues and realizing that even when you are fighting or annoyed with one another it is working that out and realizing that even during the fighting you still love this person more than anything in the world. What an amazing and honest post! Thank you!

  • Lee G.

    I so needed this post right now. I just got up out of bed because I was so angry about a fight I just had with my boyfriend. I always make him feel like an asshole because I cry and can’t help it. He always takes the middle ground and pleases no one. I want him to be on my side.

    Christmas really brings out the best in me!

    Anyway, I’m so frustrated right now, so thank you for this post and letting me know my tears are okay!

    • Christine

      I think guys work that way, they find the middle ground so the peace is maintained. Sometimes we need to cut them some slack, and see what they’re going through if they take either side. While we girls are able to hash it out, they rarely can and normally internalize and hurt a lot more. Know that he is with you and would be making you his priority (and should!) in his own way. You may not see it now, but trust me, you will.

  • I can’t imagine being married to someone who doesn’t express himself and stand up for what he needs/believes in. I would be miserable if I didn’t learn to appreciate and accept some of my husbands wants and needs. Plus, hearing that I’m being selfish often reminds me that sometimes I really am and this life isn’t just about me.

    In the early days, fights would last for days, now we can resolve them pretty quickly because we know each other well enough to know what the other person is feeling. Shouting sometimes turns into slamming doors or a spouse leaving for a little while but mostly ends with us talking it out with stern voices (and removing the YOU statements, trying to keep it focused on how each of us feels without pointing fingers or placing blame).

    We’ve made a lot of huge, life-changing decisions and some of our best results have come from settling a disagreement. I am so grateful to have a partner who challenges me and keeps me real.

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  • I read this post. And then I read the comments. And then I asked my husband about any discussions/fights/what-have-you that we might have. And we’ve just spent the last hour talking about our communication styles and the issues we disagree on and the issues we don’t disagree on and basically how things work in our relationship. Neither of us are yellers. Neither of us are dramatic people. So it’s possible someone could look at us and say we never “fight.” But we do work through the issues as they come up (and some before they do just to be prepared).

    Thanks for a great discussion starter in our home.

  • Carli Purnell

    I got a little emotional just reading this.

    My partner and I fight, a fair bit, but of those quite a few are wimpy petty little fights which we usually end up laughing over, the rest are the good old get-everything-out-in-the-open fights, the ones that make you really feel the progression of your relationship. We are both happy that we fight and feel that we should be really worried if we didn’t. To me it would suggest hiding things from each other.

    A lot of people freak when they notice this. The number of times I’ve heard “if you fight like that NOW how are you going to be after ten years!?” or something similar is rather frustrating. It is usually from family members or seemingly mild mannered acquaintances who maintain secrecy in their relationships. It hurts a little that they are judging us so negatively, but I know they just don’t understand. They only see confrontation and hear shouting, and they are afraid of it. It doesn’t make defending our relationship to them any easier or worthwhile though.

    Thank you.

  • Do you know how I avoid duplicate iCal alerts? (Apple support does not, so far…) I think b/c of iCloud calendar sharing between my husband and i, I am getting two alerts for every event on the iMac and on the iPhone. every thing is up to date and i have a very new MacBook Pro and the new iPhone 4s.