by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
My colleague, Ariel Stern, shared this with me awhile ago:
Some fights help couples grow and some fights cause irrevocable damage. It’s not the fight that is the problem, it’s how the fight happens.
It’s so true. The purpose of couples therapy is not to stop arguing. The purpose is to help you argue or fight in ways that create growth, understanding, and forward movement rather than have spats that turn into resentments that can’t be healed.
Fighting happens when you have two separate human beings operating as one- paying bills, completing chores, raising families, and etc. The differences that come with your individual life histories and preferences are bound to create pressure points.
It’s the way in which you fight that matters. Name calling, manipulating, belittling, threatening the relationship, and walking out on each other are steps backwards. Discussing desires, needs, and feelings are steps forward.
Why is it so hard to argue with your partner?
1. When you have a fight with your partner your amygdala activates. This is the part of the brain that lights up when you’re threatened. When it’s working properly it’s saving you from a scary animal running towards you to attack. However, our brains aren’t always as discerning as we wish they were, so you’ll still go into fight or flight even if you’re just arguing about who’s responsible for disciplining the kids.
2. You’ve started identifying your partner as someone to win against instead of someone to win with. This blocks out empathy and creates competition.
3. Your heart is beating at 100 or more beats per minute (bpm). This is when people become “flooded” and struggle to communicate. I hook couples up to pulse oximeters to monitor their BPM because it’s nearly impossible to have an effective conversation when bpm is elevated.
4. Because your body feels threatened your muscles will tense. This creates an aggressive or closed off posture (it also can strain your vocal chords which changes your tone of voice) which then leads to your partner also feeling threatened.
5. Attachment wounds can be triggered. If you struggle with fears of abandonment or you are avoidant, then these wounds will be triggered and your childhood “go to” coping skill will be engaged.
What else makes it hard for you to fight fair?
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a licensed marriage therapist in Philadelphia. Elizabeth supports individuals and couples improve the relationship they have with themselves and others through better communication, self soothing, and a clear understanding of what a successful marriage looks like. She believes that any committed couples who is willing to do the work can walk away from therapy with more clarity and connection in their relationship.