What Is Destructive Fighting
Destructive fighting is the ugly side of a disagreement. It is when there is no disguise that there is a heated disagreement that has become hurtful. Sometimes it might leave both people feeling distraught, unsettled, frustrated, or just angry. Anger does not have a place in a productive fight, if you are feeling angry in the disagreement then it is important to recognize that anger and take a break.
I talk about ground rules below and this is one of them; identifying when either you, yourself or your partner has gone over the threshold from upset to angry. If you are angry and need a break it is best to take that break or suggest that you both take a break, if you see that your partner is angry. This is not to say that you can’t be in control of your anger, however, it tends to go south real quick when anger is involved, so better to quit while you are ahead.
If you do take that break in the argument, then it is also good to identify a time that you will be able to continue trying to work through the discussion or the problem area.
It is also important to recognize the influence of substances in arguments as well. Is it a pattern that when drinking or using other substances there is often a fight? If this is the case then this is something to address, either when not under the influence or with a therapist. We know that when under the influence of a substance, our inhibitions are lowered and so what we might keep under wraps day-to-day, will be more likely to come out when under the influence.
If destructive fighting coincides with substance use then this is something to pay attention to and likely implies a larger challenge in the relationship that will need to be addressed together.
I would say most other feelings like frustration and being upset with the direction of the argument are real feelings that can work to bring a couple back together again, if both sides are committed to that.
Warning Signs that Fighting In Your Relationship Is Not Healthy
This can be a little complicated to define, however, I think the most important factor in deciphering this question, is to listen to your gut, I talk about this with clients a lot, when struggling to answer these questions for themselves. We all have an internal barometer around what is ok and what is not. This is true in productive fights as well, what is ok and productive in one relationship may not be the case in another relationship.
We all have our own personal experiences with fighting, disagreements, and arguing, which often originate from our lives as children and what we were exposed to growing up, this will likely impact our comfort with disagreements and what we feel comfortable with. Another rule which I highlight below is to respect the person who is less comfortable with the situation, which should always be the default in an argument or fight.
I talk extensively about unhealthy and even abusive relationships in an article entitled Depression and Domestic Violence; How to Stay Safe which can be found by clicking here.
The line between when healthy, productive fighting turns destructive can be a little blurry but as a general rule of thumb, consider these points or questions below:
1. Are any of the behaviors/tactics used to control the other person? For example, is the argument about one person not doing what the other person told them they could or couldn’t do, like seeing friends?
2. Gestures made to intimidate or frighten the other person.
3. Are threats used?
4. Does the fighting get physical?
5. Are words used to belittle, put down or hurt the other person?