May 4, 2020

5 things Couples Therapy Can Help With—Part 2: Fighting

Married couple during a therapy session with a psychologist

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Did you miss Part 1? Read it here.

​Ever wonder what couple therapy can actually help with? In this post, I’ll discuss how it can help couples fight better. There is a lot I could say about fighting in couple relationships, but today I’ll stick with the two opposites on the fighting spectrum:

  1. loud aggressive fighting, and
  2. quite passive aggressive fighting

Loud Fighting:

I use the term loud fighting because yelling and cursing often characterize it. Couples who are loud fighters are very passionate about their relationships and are usually fighting to regain connection to each other. Some people have been taught that this type of fighting is problematic—however, it is completely natural and normal. Couples who loud fight can be just as healthy as couples who don’t.​

  • Exception—Abusive Loud Fighters: The only time loud fighting gets problematic is once it crosses from more than aggressive and into abuse. This is why this type of fighting often gets a bad rap because abusive partners have a tendency to be loud fighters. The problem with abusive partners is not that they are loud, but that they don’t respect personal physical boundaries when they passionately fighting for the relationship. (You can learn more about types of abuse here.)

Passive Fighting:

Passive partners often appear cool and collected—very rational. They tend to hold all their anger inside until it simmers out. These fighters are often much more quite, and don’t show their anger all the time. Sometimes the anger simmers out in forgetfulness, body posture and tone of voice, or in biting remarks that seemingly come out of nowhere—this is when it can turn into passive aggressive fighting.

  • Exception—Abusive Passive Aggressive Fighters: It is important to note that abusive partners may also be passive aggressive. Because they are indirect with their anger, partners of passive aggressive fighters may sometimes have the feeling that they are being manipulated or might feel confusion about whether something is manipulation. Again, abusiveness is not associated with the style of fighting here—instead those who are abusive may use this passive aggressive and quieter fighting strategy. The problem here is that passive aggressive abusers do not care about the emotional impact they have on others. Instead they may intentionally emotionally hurt and manipulate others to feel in control. (You can learn more about types of abuse here.)

​Most individuals do not fit neatly into a loud fighting or passive aggressive fighting category. Most people use a combination of both strategies as different times, under different circumstances, and at different intensity levels.

One common dynamic in couple relationships is that one partner may be a loud fighter and the other may be a more quiet fighter. This can create a disconnect and confusion between partners because they aren’t speaking the same fighting language. The key is to make the message about what I am feeling, wanting, and needing very clear and confirming with my partner the message that they received. 

Regardless of the style of fighting you utilize, couple therapy can help you de-escalate fights, communicate clearer to each other, and get to the root of problems instead of getting caught up in the whirlwind of fights.

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.

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