Trivial fighting is okay in relationships but you should avoid mean fighting strategies.
The need to Win
All intimate partners have conflict from time to time. When people blend their lives together, they are bound to see some situations differently and need to resolve those differences.
Disagreements are stressful for everyone and, depending on how love partners treat each other during those conflicts, they will either bring a couple closer together or increase the emotional distance between them.
Disputes that lead to greater understanding and new perspectives can actually increase excitement and continuing discovery in a committed relationship.
Romantic partners who have learned how to argue productively while maintaining respect for each other during their conflicts can create a new emotional universe that neither partner could have created alone.
In contrast, many romantic partners fight in ways that consistently hurt their relationship. Soon into any dispute, one or both become need-to-win combatants, establishing their superior position at the expense of their partner’s.
As these kinds of disagreements escalate, these combatants use any behaviors and strategies they can muster to win the argument in any way they can. The result of these adversarial styles is often mutual isolation, unresolved anger, and painful wounds.
Need-to-win fighting styles are often unconscious behaviors that are learned in childhood and continue in subsequent relationships.
Many people are not even aware of when or where they learned to fight this way or why they continue to do so. They can easily see that they are having constant difficulty resolving their relationship disputes, but they have not connected their need-to-win fighting style, itself, with that lack of successful outcomes.
In the four decades I’ve been working with couples in relationship distress, I have witnessed this need-to-win destructive fighting style in many forms, but there are ten that most often appear.
When I am able to point them out to couples as they emerge in their interactions, they are often surprised when they see that the way they fight is the actual culprit behind their lack of ability to adequately resolve their disagreements.
When they understand that a different way of handling disputes can turn them from adversarial combatants to a mutually effective debate team, they are very often enthusiastic to learn how to do that.
As they become a mutually supportive team when they are in conflict, they begin to come up with innovative solutions to problems they had not been able to resolve in the past.
The Ten Most Common Need-to-win Fighting Styles
1) The Silent Treatment
Often accompanied by crossed arms and a supercilious expression, the silent treatment is one of the need-to-win fighting styles that is designed to get the other partner to expose his or her thoughts and feelings without doing so him or herself.
As the silent partner stays disconnected, the other partner’s distress tends to escalate, giving the winning edge to the one who stays hidden.
When feeling attacked or unnerved, many people fight back by challenging and devaluating any reasons the other partner has for feeling the way he or she does.
These focused fighters often bring in other people’s confirmations of their own point of view to beef up their position or go after the ways their partner has failed in the past. The goal of this fighting style is to create self-doubt in the other person.
In most relationships, one partner tends to be more dominant, more able to be direct, and stronger in the way he or she feels and thinks.
These people are often in relationships with partners to tend to be quieter, more methodical, and more reflective before they voice their opinions.
When these couples argue, the need-to-win dominant partner is highly likely to use powerful and intense energy to escalate the argument into greater emotional intensity. The other partner’s ability to fight back is quickly over-powered.
4) Piling on other issues
When need-to-win partners feel that they might be losing an argument, they often respond by diverting their opponents with other issues.
They may do so by rehashing the past, talking about other problems, or trying to get the other partner to focus at his or her own flaws.
The goal of bringing up additional issues is to confuse the one at hand by overloading the situation with past conflicts that are not pertinent at the time. When this fighting strategy works, the other partner cannot stay on point and is unable to resolve the initial issue.
5) Character Assassination
When they feel cornered and losing a fight, many need-to-win fighters resort to this effective but terribly destructive response.
Instead of sticking to the situation at hand, they challenge the other partner as to how he or she is basically flawed in some way, using every example they can to drive in their point.
They attempt to convince the other partner that his or her core personality deficits that make them unworthy of challenging the issue at hand, or any others.
The response of the accused is usually feeling as if he or she is on a symbolic witness stand, defending those painful devaluing judgments.