Radio silence, screaming matches or sex?
My husband and I had a huge fight last weekend.
It was about the washing up, as most of our arguments usually are.
Fortunately we don’t fight very often. There’s a tetchy word now and again, but full blown fights are few and far between. They’re short and sharp. Usually one of us storms out in a flap. (Okay, usually me.) We both stew for a bit. The one left at home does the washing up. The other one comes back home feeling like a bit of an idiot. We tentatively reach out to one another and apologise and talk it through.
I’ve noticed that, of my friends and colleagues, how couples can get through fights is a sign of how successful a relationship is likely to be. I asked around, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed this.
“My brother and sister in law had absolute humdingers but also, had the tendency to make everyone else feel like shit in social situations when they carried it on. They are now divorced,” says my colleague.
Which begs the question, what’s the healthiest way to fight and make up?
I asked some girlfriends how they fight with their partners. Then I put them to Sue Yorston, a manager with Relationships Australia.
I love to stew and escalate things but he always apologises first and wants to talk about it. Reminding me we are getting married and it's important to talk this stuff out because the most important thing is that we love each other. Ugh. It drives me a bit crazy because I'm used to yelling, slamming doors and possibly breaking up. He's so fucking mature.
It usually starts like this Him: "Have you got the shits with me?"
Radio silence for 2 days.
Sue says, “there’s a gender difference in the way we argue. Men tend to argue in the moment and move on from it. Women tend to keep a bit of a tally. They bring up something a while ago and something before that. Suddenly, they’re arguing about something from ten years ago.”
Sue highlights that it’s important to manage that difference in how you argue. It may be risky for the relationship when one person escalates an issue quickly and the other doesn’t, or if one person closes down and won’t engage with their partner.
“We have sex. We have to have sex. That’s how we remind each other that we love each other.”
I was convinced that this was absolutely not a healthy way to manage conflict, but Sue set me straight about arguments and sex.
“It’s a real thing. Some couples will escalate fights in order to heighten the sense of togetherness. It brings more emotion into the sex.” Sue says that as long as this is an agreed approach, one that is mutual and consensual then this is just fine. However, if one person feels that they have to sex in order to maintain the relationship,then this is a real problem.
“We don't know how to fight, we often escalate things to the worst case scenario really quickly. He'll be like 'So, you a divorce then?' and I'll be like What? I just told you to pick up your fucking shoes.”
Sue says, “maybe some counselling would be worthwhile here. There might be some serious stuff going on here. Maybe there’s some insecurity in one partner. They might value the relationship but not trust it and that’s worth having a chat about.”
Sue agrees that how couples manage conflict is a well established indicator of how successful a relationship is likely to be. Over the course of our conversation, she was keen to emphasise that as long as couples had similar expectations about how to deal with conflict then they would probably be alright.
How do you fight with your partner?
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