The good news is, you can fake it.
It recently came to my attention that there are people out there who think couples shouldn’t fight. That fighting is a sign of a toxic relationship, or of immaturity, or maybe just really bad manners. (And by ‘people,’ I may or may not mean ‘my boyfriend.’)
Guess what? Fighting is normal. Healthy, even. Because fighting means you care. Ask any couples therapist, and they’ll tell you. As couples counselor Dana Ward told Elite Daily, “Fighting is normal. While some couples may think fighting is the sign of a bad relationship, it is actually very important.” (So there!)
But here’s the key to fighting: you’ve got to be able to see where the other person is coming from. Empathy, understanding, the ability to ‘get’ one another – this is what allows couples to get through a spat, and to actually feel closer to each other afterwards.
Fighting the good fight
A 2015 study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that couples bounced back after fights much better when they said they could understand where the other person was coming from. Eighty-five people, all of them in relationships, were instructed to keep a daily journal and take notes on any arguments they had with their partners. They had to rate whether or not they felt that their partner was empathetic in the argument – that is, whether they ‘got’ them – and rate how happy they were in the relationship that day.
When couples indicated that they understood where their partner was coming from, they were more likely to say the fight had been healthy, and that they felt good about their relationship. But when they felt misunderstood, or not adequately heard by their loved one, they had a harder time recovering from the fight, and said they were less satisfied with their relationship.
It’s not too surprising that people felt closer to their partners after a fight where they felt understood, and more alienated after a fight that they left feeling misunderstood. Everyone likes to be heard, and feel understood. The surprising thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not your partner really does understand you. All they have to do is say that they do.
That’s not actually as messed up as it sounds, explains psychologist Serena Chen, who co-authored the study. “Feeling understood, regardless of whether it’s grounded in reality, can be enormously good for general well-being,” she told Quartz. “Conveying that you understand but don’t agree can go a long way.” Chen concedes that it can be hard to do this in the heat of the moment, but says if you can, it will go a long way toward strengthening your relationship.
So, should you start nodding your head and parroting ‘yes honey, I understand you,’ during your next fight with your beloved? Not exactly. The study doesn’t make a case for outright lying to your partner and swallowing back your own needs and feelings. But it does make a strong argument for trying to see things from your partner’s point of view.
If you’ve ever been to couples counseling, you’re probably familiar with ‘I’ statements. That’s when you frame your grievances as, for example, ‘I feel lonely’ rather than the more accusatory ‘you don’t love me!’ While it’s good not to hurl accusations at your partner, ‘I’ statements have a way of feeling robotic and phony after a while.
So next time you’re doing battle with your partner, instead of simply grasping to twist your accusations into ‘I feel’ and ‘I notice’ statements, try actually making an honest effort to be empathetic, and letting your partner know you’re trying to see things from their perspective. This clearly communicates the message that not only are you on their side, but that the two of you are a team. In short, it helps your partner feel like you ‘get’ them – which is exactly the thing Chen says is important. “Maybe the skill you need to get good at is convincing your partner, ‘Hey, I really do get you.'”
After all, no one likes fighting – especially not my boyfriend. I know, because I get him. Still, some things are worth fighting for. You just have to know how to do it.
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Comment: Do you feel that your partner ‘gets’ you?