Let's set the record straight: All couples argue. Even relationship experts agree that fighting is an integral part of the relationship package. What matters, however, and can even determine whether or not your courtship is fit for the long haul, is how you argue. Do you fight fair? Is one of you more rational than the other? Are both of you irrational and incapable of dealing with conflict in a mature and reasonable fashion? To help you determine whether one or both of you might be arguing in a way that's harmful to your relationship, we asked relationship experts to reveal the most common fighting mistakes couples make.
Not Sticking to The Point
When tensions get high, other things that are upsetting you might spill out along with the issue at hand. Maybe it feels like there's no time like the present to unearth your disgruntled feelings, but experts agree that an argument should be confined to the current disagreement. "Bringing in other things that have happened over the years—old hurts, past resentments, ancient arguments—cloud the issue and can turn a small disagreement into an all-night brawl," says Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., relationship therapist and author.
Fighting Before Bed
You've probably lost count of the number of people who have told you, "Never go to bed angry," but there's a good reason why you keep hearing this age-old piece of wisdom. Not only is fighting before bed a pretty terrible way to end your day, but relationship and etiquette expert April Masini points out that it'll also leads to a sleepless night and hard feelings. "If you know something you want to bring up is going to trigger a fight, do as much as you can to steer that conflict towards morning hours when you have your resources and you're not exhausted and stressed," she says. "Fighting in the morning is a lot more productive and less dramatic than fighting at night."
When you feel like you're at a boiling point, you might have to fight every urge not to walk out of the room or apartment, but experts urge couples to stay and finish the fight. "When you storm out, it's a power play and it doesn't advance things," says Masini. "The only time you should storm out is when you can't stop a fight from escalating and you're going to say something you shouldn't." She recommends counting to 10, getting a glass of water, and giving yourself a five-minute break with the promise of coming back. "Storming out in a dramatic move to 'win' is not playing fair and doesn't progress your evolving communications," she adds.
Fighting While Drinking
Sharing a drink with your significant other is fine. In fact, it may loosen things up and allow for smoother communication. However, our experts point out that alcohol can also add fuel to the fire. People tend to say things they wouldn't normally say or do things they wouldn't normally do when drinking, and fights escalate quickly when alcohol is involved. That's why they recommend tabling serious disagreements until the next morning.
Keeping Things Bottled Up Until You Explode
"When a fight goes from zero to one hundred in seconds, it's usually because something's been bottled up for way too long," explains Masini. She recommends trying to keep communication open, even when it comes to arguments. "If you never fight, it's not because you're super compatible. It's more likely because you're not expressing yourself honestly," she adds. "If something is bothering you and it's important, discuss it or even argue about it before it becomes a fight that is hard to contain."
Neglecting to Use Feeling Words
When you talk to your partner about what is bothering you, try your hardest not to accuse them of anything. Instead, Nelson suggests sharing how your partner's behavior makes you feel. "In this way, you avoid creating a defensive partner, which only heightens the argument," she says. "An example might be, 'It makes me really frustrated when the garbage isn't taken out to the curb on garbage night,' instead of, 'you never take out the garbage.'" The difference, she explains, is that the first is an expression of your feelings and the second is a criticism.
Forgetting to Apologize
Think about how much more relaxed you feel when someone you're upset with says the word "sorry." Case in point: An apology goes a long way. "Whether or not you won or lost the argument, it's important to apologize—it's part of fighting fair," says Masini. "When you and your partner can apologize and move forward, the fighting doesn't become about anger as much as it becomes about working through differences."