Dear Wendy: “Is Fighting Healthy In A Relationship?”

Every once in a while I get a question that’s so to-the-point and universal, I can’t not answer. Here’s an example:

Is fighting healthy for a relationship? And if so, how do you define what a “healthy fight” is? — Curious

Yes, absolutely, fighting is healthy for a relationship. In fact, I’d say it’s unhealthy not to fight occasionally. We’re all human: Our feelings get hurt; we make mistakes; we get frustrated and tired and cranky; we feel misunderstood; and we have opinions that our significant others don’t always agree with. So it’s reasonable to expect all those things to combine every now and then and create a bit of an emotional combustion. The good news is that fighting, like sex, can be a wonderful way to process and release some of those stressors. On the flip side, also like sex, if it isn’t done well, it can just exacerbate already-existent negative feelings.

So how do you make sure you do it well? It’s best to focus on the real issue at hand. How many times have you started a fight with someone over something stupid, like whose turn was it to take the garbage? It’s never really about the garbage; it’s about feeling taken for granted or overwhelmed or unsupported. Sticking to those issues and even using that language (“I’m feeling overwhelmed”) gives a platform for discussion. You can’t really disagree with how someone feels. You can’t say, “No you don’t.” You have to listen and consider where the other person is coming from and then react in a way that shows you either understand or you don’t. A healthy fight doesn’t mean you always end up with a resolution or completely understanding each other, but it should mean that you at least have a better understanding and an agreement to continue communicating and working on the issue.

Bottom line: a healthy fight is about feelings, not facts.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]