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Ask A Therapist: What's Normal Fighting v Problematic Fighting?

Relationships, Ask a Therapist
4 min read

Dear Ask a Therapist: Ever since the pandemic I feel like we’ve been bickering and fighting more. How do you tell the difference between normal fighting and problem fighting in a relationship? Can you give us examples of fights that could be bigger signs that we aren't compatible with each other?

Frame Therapist Laura Sgro weighs in...
First of all, you’re not alone in noticing more arguments with your partner since the pandemic. There are so many reasons couples have been arguing more frequently, including spending more time together, being disconnected from others outside the relationship, and increased stress. While it’s normal and even healthy for couples to get into disagreements at times, differentiating between “normal” arguments and more problematic ones can be difficult.

The first step here is to be curious. What patterns are you noticing about your arguments? Do they devolve into name-calling, criticizing, or blaming the other person? Is there a pattern of deflecting when one partner brings something up? These are indicators that your arguments may be coming from a place of defensiveness rather than love and understanding of your partner. For example, are either of you focusing more on being “right” than trying to understand the other’s point of view? This is a common defense mechanism that comes up often when strong emotions are involved, but it’s important to recognize when this is happening — otherwise, it can act as a brick wall creating a barrier between you.

Another thing to look out for is whether boundaries are being respected. For example, if you have asked your partner not to call you a particular name or criticize a particular thing and they do it anyway because they’re upset, that can be a red flag. If your partner has asked for a five-minute time out to take a breather and gather themselves, but you insist on continuing a heated conversation, that can also be a sign of not respecting one another’s boundaries. Relationships involve compromise from all partners, and this could be an indicator that your relationship is teetering on unhealthy dynamics.

If you’re noticing that you often have the same fight over and over without a resolution, it’s a good idea to explore what might be driving this continuous issue. Is one partner feeling like their needs aren’t being met? Is one partner dismissing the other person’s feelings and sweeping the issue under the rug? Is this an issue in which you can’t agree, and if so, is that a dealbreaker? As painful and difficult as it can be to examine your relationship at this level and see patterns that you may not want to see, it’s important to evaluate whether your relationship is continuing to meet your needs.

Fortunately, it is possible to argue with your partner in a fair, healthy, and respectful way. The key component is compassion. Again, when those strong emotions come up, it’s easy to just react to them, which can lead to hurt feelings. Instead, try practicing mindfulness throughout your conversation: noticing your own reactions while acknowledging your partner’s perspective. It’s also important to be aware of your expectations for the conversation. Changing your partner’s mind or expecting a clean-cut resolution is not always a realistic goal, but expressing your feelings and wanting to be heard are things that you should be able to do in a productive conversation. With effort and mutual respect, it is totally possible to have positive outcomes from difficult conversations.

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About the Therapist: Laura Sgro, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and EMDR practitioner based in Los Angeles, California. Laura specializes in working with high-achieving, people-pleasing, and anxious adults struggling with codependency, anxious attachment, and relationship trauma. Explore her Frame profile here to learn more about her approach and to schedule a free intro call.  

Follow Laura for more content @laurasgrolcsw


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