Your Relationship Fighting Style

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Your Relationship Fighting Style

The way you start a fight says a lot about your relationship’s future, so when you come out swinging, keep it clean.

A six-year study on 124 newlywed couples showed an interesting correlation between how a couple begins an argument and whether they stay together. Of the 17 couples who divorced by year six, every single one began conflict discussions with high negativity, usually with the wife criticizing her husband’s character (“You’re so lazy”) and the husband becoming defensive.

Laurie Puhn, author of Fight Less, Love More, agrees that fighting styles play a key role in the health of a relationship. “Fighting to change a person just exhausts you,” she says. “Fighting to get a solution to the problem at hand is healthy.”

What’s Your Fighting Style?

According to Puhn, there are four basic fighting styles, along with a solution for each one—even for couples who claim they never fight:

  • Drama King and Queen. If your fights involve a lot of emotional explosions or objects being thrown across the room, you fit into this category. Puhn advises that when things start to get control, change the setting. Leave the room you’re in and go sit down at the kitchen table—anything to help switch up the dynamics and stop the drama so you can deal with the issue at hand.
  • The Over-Analyzers. While having an understanding of the issues that affect your relationship is healthy, Puhn says couples who overanalyze every detail of their misunderstandings will never find resolution, because as soon as they’ve picked apart one issue, they’ll be on to the next. And when you constantly micro-analyze every disagreement, you end up concentrating on what’s wrong with your relationship rather than what’s good.
  • She Talks, He Walks. We’ve all been in a situation where one partner wants to talk things out while the other wants to postpone or avoid the situation, or simply has much less to say. According to Puhn, both communication styles should be acknowledged and respected. She suggests telling the quieter partner that you want to talk, but setting a time limit. This will relieve their fears about being stuck in a long, drawn-out fight because there will only be a finite amount of time to come up with a solution.
  • The Silent Treatment. On the other hand, if one person completely clams up during a fight, it can be frustrating and unfair to the other person. After all, if you can’t ever talk about the issue, you’ll never be able to solve it. This leads to mute conflict and palpable tension in the long run. Puhn says the silent treatment typically comes at the end of a relationship because the person who clams up has either given up or simply doesn’t have the energy to fight anymore. If you feel yourself going into silent mode, take it as a warning sign, and if you really do want to stay in the relationship, tell your partner what’s going on.

Lastly, Puhn has a warning for all you lovebirds who claim you “never fight.

” It’s normal for couples to disagree, and if you and your partner never argue, it could be a sign that one of both of you are sublimating your own needs in an effort to keep the peace.

She suggests checking in with your gut from time and time. Pay closer attention to your inner reactions and when you disagree or are unhappy about something, speak up.


What Is Your Fighting Style?

Your Relationship Fighting Style

How couples argue and disagree about issues appears to be more consequential to the success of marriage than what they argue about or how often they experience conflicts.”

To reword the above quote taken from an article by Hanzal and Segrin in the Journal of Family Communication, you could simply say “how we fight has far more influence on the future of our marriage, than what we fight about”.

Therefore, our fighting style, or how we fight, really matters.

Before I get into the different styles of fighting, we need to be aware that gender differences make a big difference in our fights. In fact, a husband and a wife will experience the same fight differently. Not just because they have different perspectives, but because they are different genders.

You might not be a typical couple, and that’s not necessarily a problem, but the following things, about how most couples operate are good to keep in mind.

Women tend to be more negative in conflict and use confrontational behaviors that say “this is all about me”, rather than the marriage. The behaviors include being demanding, hostile, threatening, insulting and insisting that all the change should come from their husband.

But to stereotype men for a moment… Men are more ly to avoid. They get scared of the big emotions, so feel safer avoiding them altogether.

Another thing for men to keep in mind is that the less influence a woman feels she has in her marriage, the bigger the artillery she has to use to gain influence, so the more confrontational she will be.

Husbands, if you want a happier wife, receive her influence!

Remember, both husband and wife have the same end goal of trying to save the marriage, but they come at it from two completely different angles.


One thing that surprised me when Caleb and I were discussing the fighting in marriage, was that an angry wife has a far greater negative impact on marital satisfaction than an equally angry husband. The Proverb that says ”It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman” apparently is very true!

Wives, we need to take our anger seriously! It not only lowers our marriage satisfaction but our husband’s as well.

The angrier we become (this goes for both husbands and wives but I’m specifically thinking of woman), the more tempted we are to use nasty behavior such as demand, withdrawal, contempt, and criticism; all of which are particularly corrosive to marital well-being.


So now that we know that our fighting style really matters and that each gender comes at a fight a different way, let’s look at some of the different styles of fighting in marriage.

This model of fighting styles is taken from Dr. Gottman’s study in 1993. The first three are functional and work fine. The last two are considered unstable.

1. Avoiders

Avoiders don’t think they are avoiders but don’t have any specific strategies for resolving conflict. They may wait stuff out or even talk stuff out, but never really go deep with each other.

They kind of state their points, reaffirm their common ground and move on after coming up with some ambiguous solution.

The challenge with an avoider’s marriage over the long term is that you can end up distant and lonely.

2. Volatiles

Volatiles come straight at each other. They disagree and try to persuade each other. They produce a lot of drama: both positive and negative. They value arguing and really work hard at convincing each other. These folks can bicker pretty good but passionate love-making with ly follow.

3. Validators

Validators tend to walk the middle line. There is conflict but there’s ease and calm too and each spouse is trying to validate the other. This could look clear empathy or a lot of “Mm hmm’s”.

If you see this couple in conflict, you get the idea that they are both working together on a problem.

This is a calmer approach to marriage, and it sounds rosy (and is!) but the romance can dissipate and the marriage can end up as a close friendship.

4. Hostiles

Hostiles have very negative conversations. There is always lots of defensiveness, lots of globalizing and each spouse is very judgmental. It is always a downward spiral.

5. Hostile/Detached

Hostile/Detached couples normally have little or no emotional involvement with each other. Occasionally they may get into a hostile spat, often about trivial matters.

So, what kind of couple are you?

Ideally, you want to be validators and have a little avoidance so you know you’re normal and then a sprinkle of volatility just to spice things up a bit!

How Can We Do Better?

Avoiders: Agree to start opening up to each other. Make sure you grab our Talk To Me 101 course that teaches you communication and conflict resolution skills.

Volatiles: You’re doing ok, but make sure you catch next week’s episode on fighting ground rules. Be careful you don’t shift to hostile and remember you need to have a solid fondness and admiration system as a base in your marriage.

Validators: Watch out for differentiation. This is the ideal model in behavior marital therapy but there is a point where you need to cut the empathy and tell your spouse the uncomfortable things they may need to hear. We never grow if we don’t know that we need to!

Hostiles or Hostile/Detached: These styles are destructive so please, actively seek help. At the very least, get some good books, Dr. Gottman’s; ideally, get coaching or counseling.

Be sure to catch the fourth episode of our fighting series, which will be published in two weeks, about how to repair after a fight. This is a critical skill if you want to stay married!

Image courtesy of Raul Lieberwirth under the Creative Commons license.

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What 8 different types of arguments can tell you about your relationship, according to researchers

Your Relationship Fighting Style

Even your most common and annoying fights are an opportunity to learn about your relationship and make it stronger.

Small fights create big emotional distances. Westend61/Getty Images

Did your partner leave the empty yogurt container on the counter? Samantha Boardman, PhD and founder of Positive Prescription, said being thrown for a loop over little things can be normal, but it's important to take stock of what ly set off the annoyance in the first place. “Stress, fatigue, and hunger often provide the spark to set off a heated argument,” she said.

“Discovering your partner left the cap off the toothpaste after a fun evening together is one thing, making the same discovery after a long day at work and a horrible two-hour commute home in the rain is quite another.

” Rather than light into the other person when stress strikes, which Dr.

Boardman said can stir up questions about criticism, control, blame, or partner negligence in the relationship, she suggests focusing on kindness and compliments throughout the relationship.

Physical side-effects of an argument are common. Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

While money and sex are the top two most common reasons for arguments, parenting differences, in-law issues, or even what's-for-dinner fights can also lead to arguments, Dr. Boardman said. Driving behaviors and too much technology use during mealtimes to the list as well, said Dr. Amsellem.

Regardless of the topic, be careful about how you react, especially if the argument intensifies: It can make the difference between good heart health and bad.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Northwestern University, found that couples who engage in rage-fueled fights are more ly to experience spikes in blood pressure and cardiovascular problems in the future.

On the flip side, if you regularly withdraw emotionally during a heated spat, to include hardly saying anything and avoiding eye contact, the same researchers discovered you're more ly to develop stiff necks, backaches, and overall muscle tension. Try these 8 tips to avoid marriage counseling.

Take time to remember the honeymoon phase. Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

Whether you're getting along famously or bickering about dirty dishes, sexual frequency, spending habits, or anything in between, it's essential to take a breath and focus on the love you shared in the first place.

“Give a compliment, make your partner a cup of coffee, flirt a little, be affectionate, or send a text message saying something sweet you used to do when you were dating,” Dr. Boardman said.

“It's so obvious and yet so easily forgotten when there are kids to feed, bills to pay and laundry to do. At the end of the day, it's the everyday gestures of love that count.

As the old saying goes, if you act you did at the beginning of the relationship, there won't be an end.” These are the 19 things marriage counselors know about your relationship.

This Reader's Digest story was originally published on Business Insider February 19, 2018.

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