Expert psychologists and researchers, such as Dr. Sue Johnson and Drs. John and Julie Gottman, agree that fighting in and of itself is not the primary problem in troubled relationships and is not the strongest predictor of divorce.
Instead, emotional disconnection and the way couples fight are more relevant predictors of a relationship failing. Here are some important things to know about conflict, disconnectedness, and how they’re related:
When couples have frequent, intense conflict, there is usually a lot of pain and anger to go around. As awful as angry fights feel, they are often a form of protest against the couple becoming disengaged. Couples who find a lot to fight about are basically saying there is still something to fight for. If this describes you, do not wait to seek counseling. While conflict is not the enemy, the way we treat our partners during angry, escalated conflicts can have a strong negative impact on trust and the feeling of emotional safety in the relationship. Couples counseling can help you understand your conflict pattern better – before it gets worse – so you and your partner can develop new ways to tackle life’s problems together.
The Conflict/Disconnect Cycle:
Once partners have hurt each other enough times, the emotional disconnect between them will increase. This is natural; if we feel we aren’t emotionally safe with our partner, we’re going to create more emotional distance so that it’s harder for our partner to hurt us. However, being detached is also painful, frustrating, and scary; it can feel like we’re the only one looking out for our needs. Couples who feel this way are more inclined to fight “dirty” and engage in criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling, which tend to escalate fights and make the partners feel even worse about one another. Couples will only engage in intense, angry conflict for so long before they decide it’s hopeless. So, it’s not the fighting itself that ends the relationship, it’s the way disconnected/insecure couples fight that leads to even more disconnect and eventually results in the members parting ways.
Are you feeling disconnected from your partner or is the fighting getting out of hand? Maybe you aren’t at this point, but you would like some support in making your relationship stronger so that you can better weather life’s storms together. For more information on how an EFT therapist helps couples improve their connection, click here.