If they're so happy, why do happy couples fight?

If They’re So Happy, Why Do Happy Couples Fight?

I was sitting in my favorite hip coffee shop the other day enjoying a simple latte and people-watching.  Right away I saw a spunky teenage girl and her equally energetic mother at the table next to me.  Two peas in a pod, I thought to myself. Shortly after noticing this duo, I overheard the teen ask her mom in that typical, smart-ass way:  “If they’re so happy, why do happy couples fight?”

I imagined that if she were standing up, this girl would sling her hand to her hip as she fired off that question.

If they're so happy, why do happy couples fight?

And it got me to thinking…Why DO happy couples fight?

It is true.  Happy couples really do fight sometimes.

All couples (even happy ones) get triggered, feel threatened, wake up in bad moods, and have strong opposing opinions at times.  And these are the sorts of things that lead people to argue and fight.

Occasionally, happy couples even act like bratty kids, slam cupboard doors, stomp away in a huff, roll their eyes, yell, and go to bed mad.  So don’t freak out if that happens in your house once in a while.

Being happily married doesn’t mean that spouses never act out or have those momentary meltdowns.

Thankfully, it’s possible to be happily married and imperfect!  That should give us all a bit of hope.

It turns out that fighting is part of our evolutionary wiring.  Fighting is natural.

Dr. Stan Tatkin explains that the human brain is built more for war than for love.  Because of this, he encourages couples to not avoid conflicts or arguments. Instead of repressing the desire to argue, Dr. Tatkin says that couples need to learn to “fight well.”

Fighting well, or fighting smart is what differentiates how happy couples fight versus how unhappy couples fight.  Here are some of the core elements of fighting well:

  • Understand that you and your partner have different brains and they’re wired for war
  • Learn to read your partner by focusing on his/her facial and body cues
  • If you see or hear that your partner is upset, lead with relief or respond with an act of friendliness
  • Argue when you’re eye-to-eye and face-to-face
  • Never fight over the phone, via text, or in the car
  • Remember your goal is to end the fight with a win-win

Another element of fighting well has to do with the proportion of positivity to negativity during conflicts.  Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that in stable and happy marriages there is a 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity during conflict.  In contrast, unstable marriages have 0.8:1 ratio.  Dr. Gottman explains that positivity during an argument or fight includes:

  • Softening the start-up of a conversation that’s likely to cause conflict
  • Interjecting humor
  • Soothing yourself and your partner
  • Delivering and accepting attempts at repair
  • Compromising on the issue you’re fighting about
  • Addressing emotional injury that occurred during the fight

Now we know the answer to the question:  If they’re so happy, why do happy couples fight?  Basically, it’s that fights come about naturally in all intimate relationships.  The goal isn’t to never fight, but to learn how to fight well.  Done well, fights can lead to greater understanding and intimacy.

That being said, if you feel like you and your partner are fighting way too often, or that there’s never any compromise or repair, then you probably need some expert help.  I’m a sought after Denver couples counselor. Let me know if I can help.

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