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Healthy Fighting vs. Unhealthy Fighting: What’s the Difference

A couple who knows the difference between a healthy vs. unhealthy fights standing on a mountain looking at the sky.

All healthy relationships have arguments here and there. But, understanding the difference between a healthy fight and an unhealthy fight is more important than worrying about what causes a fight. Being able to have a fight isn’t about the actual situation , it’s about whether a fight will benefit your relationship or damage it.

“A healthy fight is caused because of differing perspectives or an insignificant slight and can be easily resolved by an apology. An unhealthy fight is about something that can’t be changed or something petty just to cause tension and exert a negative power over the other person,” explains relationship expert Margaux Cassuto.

So how can you tell if your fights are healthy or unhealthy? Here are some things to think about:

Unhealthy Fight: Fighting for the sake of fighting.
It’s unhealthy because no good can come of it because no change can come either. “Picking a fight over something that happened before you were in a relationship with your partner that can’t be changed now and had nothing to do with you in the first place is not healthy,” says Cassuto.  Say you pick a fight because he spent his early 20s blowing his money on trips to Miami rather than saving for the future.  If you weren’t together at that time in his life, you can’t get mad at him for his actions.

Healthy Fight: When you feel you aren’t being heard.
Couples have to fight to keep some semblance of independence, says Nicole Merritt, a marriage blogger and owner and Founder of JthreeNMe. But they also fight to stay connected. “Couples have to fight to maintain intimacy. Couples have to fight to make sure each partner is heard. They have to fight their individual desire to have their partner think alike and fight for the strength to think as a team.”

Unhealthy Fight: When it turns personal.
If your partner uses disagreements to attack you personally, belittle you, or shame you, that’s a problem, explains relationship therapist, Alice Roberts. “When a partner makes a personal attack or belittles, or shames you, it’s a sign that they are unable to differentiate.  This means that they don’t know how to feel secure in a relationship where their partner has different opinions or likes.” In other words, they have to resort to calling you names or attacking you every time you have a disagreement.

Healthy Fight: Fighting about how your partner hurt your feelings.
“For example, when you saw him speak to his ex when you asked him not to and you got mad at him but then he promises never to do it again after extending a sincere apology,” explains Cassuto.  This is a healthy fight because each partner understands what was hurtful about what happened. Standing up for yourself and your feelings in a relationship is important.

Unhealthy Fight: Fighting that turns into a blame game.
When disagreements turn into a hunt for who is at fault, it becomes impossible to reach a positive resolution, says Roberts. Pointing fingers and focusing on each other’s faults instead of listening to how your partner is feelings only leads to more disagreements that end up becoming problematic for your relationship.

Healthy Fight: Fighting to hash out a plan.
Here, the goal is to find common ground or to create a new solution, says relationship expert, Kryss Shane. “Healthy fighting focuses on the individual situation at hand and pits the couple against the problem. This typically results in a resolution to the problem or at least a better understanding about why you feel as you do and why your partner feels as they do. The end of a healthy fight is typically either laughter, a solution, or a decision about how or whether to continue to figure this out.”

Unhealthy Fight: Fights that involve abuse.
This abuse can be physical, verbal, mental, and emotional. “Unhealthy fights are those in which one or both partners are not fighting fair and are hitting below the belt, on purpose and unapologetically. Manipulation is usually a staple of an unhealthy fight as well,” says Merritt. This type of abusive fighting should never be allowed and if this is something you experience often or even once, it’s time to get out of the relationship.

Though it can be unpleasant fighting is a part of healthy relationships. Learning to disagree and move past your disagreements can bring you closer to someone, because you both know you care enough about each other to have the tough conversations. But there are also fights that aren’t healthy and don’t move a relationship forward. Learning to spot the difference between the two is an important part of learning to be in a relationship.

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