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Can A 'Fighting Formula' Improve Your Relationship?

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Couple in a field wearing boxing gloves
Is there a right and wrong way to handling conflict in your relationship?

When the Gloves Come Off
When you find yourself in the midst of a fight, remember that your emotional, and physical, health rely on the type of fighting going on between you and your partner. Research shows that women who perceive their partners as "arguing with warmth" actually have significantly reduced risk of heart disease than those who don't, says Dreyfus. "What's striking about this is that we are not talking about women who don't argue being healthier—but those who perceive that the friendliness doesn't leave the relationship in the midst of conflict," she says. "I think it is crucial for partners to consciously agree that they want to remain partners in conflict—not adversaries." MyDaily: Woman Unfriends Boyfriend On Facebook, Lands In Jail

For Jessica Graves-Toliver, the fighting in her relationship began before she was married. "It could start for a number of reasons, but most often it would be something as simple as a timeline that did not add up," says Graves-Toliver, an operations manager in Cincinnati. Throughout their relationship and marriage, infidelity was a huge issue resulting in many a fight; money was another. "He would lie about money; checks from commission were always cashed, he never had stubs," says Graves-Toliver. "In hindsight, of course, it was always a way for him to hide money for his affairs."

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Most often, the couple would fight in the morning or late at night. The fights would sometimes continue through email at work and last for days. "He would always cave in, because I was the center of our social lives and our family life and he needed me to know kids' schedules," she says. "We could go months at a time at peace, but then there would be weeks of hell. Eventually, there were times of domestic violence, he broke furniture, put holes in walls, even bruised my arm trying to get me to stay in the room. It was finally enough."

A Healthy Fight
While some fights are brutal, there is such a thing as having a discussion about differences without making it an argument. Yelling, throwing things, making nasty comments or becoming violent is childish and destructive to the relationship; but really in every fight, the question is of motivation: Are you speaking in order to connect, to help your partner grow or to put your partner down? "I have witnessed screaming matches where there was love in the space," says Dreyfus, "and intellectual 'mature' debates that felt like ice."

Seth Meyers, author of Dr. Seth's Love Prescription, says couples who tend to argue almost as an intellectual form of sparring aren't necessarily unhealthy. "When it gets unhealthy is when the arguments become personal and one or both members of the couple feel attacked, criticized, or not supported," he says.

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