My first answer is OH MAN this is some garbage. You kinda know it’s garbage, right? But you’re feeling a bit worried anyway because who the fuck ever knows if you’re doing relationships right, right? and the “healthy couples fight” trope is very pervasive.
I would agree that normal couples fight but please remember that about 90% of couples should probably break up. Hurtful words are normal in relationships, so is bringing up old arguments for the sake of wounding your partner. Normal relationships are pretty toxic.
(Here is a good resource for ‘fighting fair’ – if you or your partner can’t follow these rules, you need to break up and/or get help learning how to follow them before you date again. They are non-negotiable minimum standards. #1, #3 and #4 are one strike and you’re out, the rest are like, if it slips out and you immediately back-pedal and apologise, okay, but if it’s habitual, no, you gotta break up.)
And passion! What does that even mean? I reckon if you love someone enough to fight, you can also love them enough to curb your aggression, calm down, examine your feelings, and talk about them openly? Restraining your first impulse is harder than giving into it, so I don’t know why restraint somehow got classified as less romantic.
Passion is men who say they’ll do anything to get you to stay, so long as “anything” is a grand quest on their own terms. They’ll fight a bear, but they won’t be honest with you. They’ll run up and down a mountain six times, but they won’t do any serious self-reflection. They’ll wait on you hand and foot like a devoted knight, but they won’t go to therapy, give you some space, or do the difficult, unglamorous work of personal growth.
What is unhealthy is never having any difficult or painful discussions. If you don’t bring up your needs or state boundaries because you’re afraid of causing a fight, that’s unhealthy. If you just swallow stuff that hurts you instead of telling your partner, that’s no good. Partly because the only way to swallow that stuff is to shave off a little sliver of your love for your partner, and if you’re committed to them, you have a responsibility not to shave off those slivers.
You know how, if you fall over in public, you do this laughing along with it thing in an attempt to save your dignity instead of just crying and refusing to get up for the next ten minutes which is what you’d really prefer to do?
You can’t try to save your dignity with a partner. You have to say “that thing you said in front of our friends embarrassed me” even though it’s even more embarrassing to admit that. That guy I always get confused with Anthony Bordain says that your ego is a ridiculous baby that needs coddling or it will get resentful, and you kind of have to accept that fact, and not try to be better than it.
You’re still responsible for your ridiculous ego baby, but taking responsibility means saying “hey, I know it's silly, but I felt ignored yesterday when you interrupted me” and giving your partner the chance to say “oh shit, sorry, I was worrying about work. Please tell me the story again now, I’m listening" (or "I can't talk right now but let's make time on Friday”). It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it does have to get sorted, or it builds up. (If you don’t trust your partner to say “oh shit, sorry, I’m listening now” then you’re in the 90% who should break up.)
You can’t be like “it was silly of me to feel upset, I won’t bring it up.” You have to be okay with looking silly to your partner.
I’m going to define “fight” as a disagreement where you’re looking to win or make a point (instead of resolve the situation with both of you as happy as possible). As opposed to a difficult conversation about conflicting needs (“I want to live overseas, but you want to stay close to your family” should never, ever be a fight. It will be a very hard conversation, but not a fight.)
Fights happen because you’re tired and stressed, not because you’re overwhelmed with love for your partner. This is extremely obvious if you look at the pattern of when your fights tend to happen.
I have had a few fights with my partner, and they’re always dumb. They’re never about issues of any actual importance to our relationship. The last one, I wish I was joking: I put heaps of paprika in our dinner and it turned out to be hot paprika and the food was too spicy to eat and he was like “why would you put so much of a spice in without tasting it first” and I was like “because I know what paprika tastes like, you should have told me it was hot paprika not sweet paprika, sweet paprika is the normal kind!”
“No, hot paprika is the normal kind!”
This is not a fight that needed to happen. It wasn’t borne out of passion. And it ended because we caught ourselves and realised this didn’t need to be decided in anyone’s favour and we could just drop it. (That is: we remembered, in a non-glamorous, non-passionate way, that we love each other a ridiculous amount).
(Note: there is a strong chance that one of you will realise this first and the other will still be fuming. If you're fuming, try to trust your partner and agree to drop it for a few hours and check if you still think it matters then.)
Official ruling: it’s a red flag to have a fight with your partner more than once every three months (unless one or both of you is going through a particularly difficult time).
- If it’s a paprika fight, catch yourself as soon as possible and drop it without declaring a winner.
- If you have a conflict about something that matters then here’s a good resource for ‘fighting fair’, i.e. in ways that won’t damage your relationship.
- If your partner says it’s a paprika fight, and you think it’s a fight that matters, and you've calmed down and definitely aren't just in a mood, then you’re right, it matters (because it matters to you). You will need to explain to your partner why it matters to you. See the link for fighting fair.
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #20 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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