Fight nights ... high conflict marriages aren’t always bad.
My marriage is what one might call ‘volatile’. (One might also call it ‘loud’, ‘passionate’, and ‘having once involved fruit being thrown at a kitchen wall’.) My husband and I fight quite regularly. We always have. Still, we’ve only been married for fifteen years, so I figure there’s plenty of time for us to learn how to get along.
Or is there?
Well, now I’m not so sure. You see, the other day, whilst browsing online, I came across some rather alarming news. A study in the U.S. has found that the rates of conflict in the average marriage don’t change much over the course of the relationship. Researchers tracked nearly a thousand couples over two decades, and discovered that the frequency of their arguments remained remarkably consistent.
In other words, in twenty years I am likely to be fighting with my partner just as much as I do today. And you will be fighting just as much with yours.
Of course, this won’t be bad news for all of you. Those of you in freaky low conflict marriages will most probably remain calm for the rest of your life. But for people in totally normal high conflict marriages like me, it will be stomping and yelling for the next fifty years.
I have to admit that this revelation momentarily stunned me. Surely, I thought, my husband and I would be moving towards a greater mutual understanding as we got older. Surely we would come to accept each others’ flaws. Surely we would spend our twilight years living together in peace and harmony.
Well, no. And the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. After all, I only have to look at my gorgeous grandparents to see that years of living together do not a perfect union make. Oh, they love each other deeply. But when you casually ask them what they did yesterday and one says ‘We had coffee with Michael,’ and the other says ‘Not coffee, peppermint tea!’ and the first says ‘Okay, we had tea, but it was chamomile, not peppermint!’ and the discussion continues heatedly for twenty minutes or more... well, you realise some dynamics never change.
Still, it’s not as bad as it seems. You see, high conflict marriages aren’t always bad and low conflict marriages aren’t always good.
For one thing, zero conflict is not necessarily the sign of a healthy relationship (and I’m not just telling myself that to make myself feel better). Of course, it may be indicative of a couple who agree about everything, or who are so laid back that they are genuinely happy to let differences of opinion slide.
However, it can also be a sign of conflict avoidance on the part of one or both partners, in which the fear of arguments takes precedence over actually sorting through issues. Anger gets swallowed down and resentments build, until suddenly one member of the ‘perfect couple’ who ‘never fought’ blows up, or even walks out, leaving the other one crying ‘But I thought we were happy!’
Furthermore, what seems to be important in marriages is not how often you argue, but how you argue. Marriages can survive conflict, even thrive on conflict - you just need to fight fair. And the internet is filled with advice on the subject.
Stick to the argument at hand and don’t bring up past history. Never involve third parties like your parents or kids or friends. Never blame, use lots of ‘I’ sentences, and don’t name call. And it is okay to occasionally go to bed angry. Things sometimes do look much better in the morning.
Of course, my husband and I break many of those rules, frequently. We bring up past history, we blame, and we call each other names. And though we really try not to involve other people in our fights, sometimes we do involve fruit.
Still, that’s us. We’re volatile. And if we’re going to argue for the next fifty years, well, I’d rather do that than be calm with someone else.
My husband and I love each other. Deep, unresearchable, unquantifiable love. It’s what keeps us together, through conflict and peace.
And that’s not something that any study can measure.