Maybe you’ve been dating each other for a while now. Maybe you’ve been married for 10 years. Maybe your relationship is just getting started. Regardless of how long you’ve been together, communication is the bedrock of all relationships. And no matter how hard you try or how much you love your partner, you are going to fight with them. It’s pretty much inevitable that when two human beings are spending so many waking moments together, they are going to get in each other’s way or get on each other’s nerves.
And that’s okay. It’s all about how you fight, and doing your best to make sure you are fighting well.
According to research by the Gottman Institute, you can tell a lot about a couple’s future by watching them solve a conflict. Researchers gave couples 15 minutes to work out a problem in their relationship and filmed their interactions. When they checked in with the couples again nine years later, they were able to use their findings to predict which ones would still be married and which would be divorced — with over 90 percent accuracy.
How did they do this? Gottman discovered the “magic ratio” that makes relationships work. When fighting, happy couples will have five (or more!) positive interactions to every one negative interaction. If that ratio falls to one-to-one (or less), research indicates that the relationship can’t sustain itself.
When I first heard about this ratio and thought about my own marathon knock-down, drag-out fights with my wife, I was suddenly wondering if we were headed for trouble. (Spoiler alert: We’re not.)
But it’s a good idea to know what kind of fighters you and your partner are so that you can rectify any detrimental behaviors before they become bad habits. My wife and I spent some time analyzing and discussing our own conflict styles and recognized some things about ourselves — and each other — that were not helping our communication. After going through this exercise, I honestly feel like our fights are quicker, less intense, and more productive in terms of solving a problem rather than kicking it down the street for a future fight.
So here are 10 weapons you should consider putting down when fighting with your partner.
Avoidance: Something is up, but one or both of you don’t want to talk about it.
The silent treatment: You’re mad about something, so you punish your partner by not talking to them, talking as little as possible or putting on a flat affect.
Anger: Channeling your fight into angry language and raising your voice.
Making excuses: When you’re called on the carpet for something, there are a million reasons why it’s not your fault.
Unwilling to apologize: The fight becomes a staring contest, as no one is willing to blink by offering an apology.
Bait-and-switch: You start out fighting about what’s for dinner, but you both know the fight is really about money. Or worse yet, you start a fight with your partner when you’re mad about something completely unrelated.
Throwing daggers: Why let past faults and fights go when you can use them as ammo in a later fight?
Venting: Instead of taking up the issue with your partner, sometimes it’s easier to complain about it to your friend, coworker, or anyone else who will listen.
Mocking: Sometimes the best way to make your point is to repeat something your partner said in a belittling impression of their voice.
Fixating: Your partner misspeaks or says something they don’t really mean, and you latch on to the phrase and hold it over them for the rest of the fight.
When perusing this list, have enough humility to ask your partner which weapons you are guilty of using and listen to their feedback with an open mind. The person bearing the brunt of your negative communication styles is probably a more trustworthy witness than you are.
Once you’re both clear on what hasn’t been working, it’s time to apologize and authentically forgive each other for the hurt you’ve caused. Since these weapons are so insidious, they are likely to return in future fights. My wife and I agreed to call each other out — without malice — whenever we recognize a weapon being employed. This has gone a long way in helping us to fight better, as the recognition immediately defuses the situation and calls us back to our goal of settling the issue without hurting each other.
And that’s the real magic of the “magic ratio.” You ultimately care more about the person you’re fighting with than the issue you’re fighting about. Continuing to work on your communication and settling disputes in a loving, compassionate way is an ongoing process that will ultimately strengthen your relationship for the long run. And that’s something worth fighting for.