Couples Fighting Well

Couples Fighting Well:

John and Julie Gottman tell us there are two basic types of fights that couples have that they call solvable fights and perpetual fights.

Solvable fights are the ones that have some kind of solution. They are fixable. Let’s say you’re feeling put upon because you always must fill the washing machine or get the fuel for the fire. You and your partner might fight about this once you finally reach your boiling point. It is a logistical problem, one that can be figured out once everybody has a cool head.


Perpetual fights are different. These are the issues that don’t go away. These are the things we end up fighting about time and time again, because they tap into some of the deeper differences between us: differences in personalities, priorities, values, and beliefs. And no matter how perfect someone is for you; they are always going to be there. You may remember the adage, “We’re often drawn to people who are very different from us.”.

It comes down to this: the vast majority of our problems—69 percent, to be precise—are perpetual, not solvable. This means that most of the time, whatever you and your partner are fighting about is not going to have a simple solution or any easy fix. And of these perpetual fights, 16 percent become rigid: the partners go round after round on the same topics, not only not getting anywhere, but causing more hurt, anger, and distance. And this is why the way we fight can be helpful or unhelpful to us. We may have developed a pattern where we rush in, wound each other, miss repair opportunities, and then repeat the cycle again, the next time we fight about the same old thing.

Couples are more in distress now than ever before. Gottman’s international study with over forty thousand couples, found that, in couples seeking therapy, the rates of anxiety (27 percent), depression (46 percent), and suicidality (29 percent). Almost a third of all couples were struggling with issues surrounding substance abuse. And 35 percent were dealing with the fallout of an affair.

Our world seems to become more and more uncertain, and so often, we end up taking out our stress and anxiety on the people closest to us. When we fight with a partner, we aren’t fighting in a vacuum. The world gets in. By the time we arrive at a point of conflict with a partner, we’re often already carrying so much—our emotional bandwidth is short, we’re cognitively overloaded, and that shrinks our capacity to be gentle with each other. We carry the residue of the day with us when we interact—the worries and pressures that we’ve experienced, and that weigh on us in ways we might not be aware of. And beyond the walls of our homes, conflict abounds. It proliferates in the virtual world, where the format of the interaction makes true understanding incredibly rare. Our world has never been as polarised.


We are at a critical point in human history—a point where across the board, in every arena, we need to learn to set aside our defences, open up, and fight for peace and understanding. This starts within the four walls of the home. Our romantic partnerships are the building blocks of our larger communities. They have ripple effects on our children, our friendships and extended families, and our collaborations in the workplace. They influence our capacity to give back to the world and make change. As we learn to fight better in our homes, we can learn to fight better in our communities, across political divides, in our society, and even as a human race.

It’s only human to have conflicts. It’s even humane to have conflicts—often, it’s exactly the right thing to do. But we need to bring our best humanity to our conflicts.

When we fight, we should be trying to create something better. That’s the goal of conflict: to create something better for yourself, for you and your partner as a couple, and for the world. Conflict doesn’t have to break us apart. Conflict and peace are not mutually exclusive. We can arrive at peace through conflict. We can combine kindness and gentleness with fighting. We can grow closer because of conflict. But to do this, we need to get to the heart of our conflicts.

Brian can be contacted on


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