I personally have friends who are the epitome of intellectual sparring. Growing up with starkly different backgrounds, they would have intense, heated political debates, which I saw firsthand during the last presidential election. At first, many of us weren't sure their relationship would make it past election day. But once the dust settled, their relationship was still strong. Even during their debates, the tone was never angry, just the two of them challenging the beliefs of the other.
When It's Gone Too Far
The minute voices are raised, says Tessina, fighting has gone too far. Dreyfus agrees that things have gone too far when you feel invisible, frightened and too unsafe to speak your truth. "When I'm working with a couple in a therapy session, I won't touch a relatively mundane issue like 'whose family will we go to for Thanksgiving,' until I sense the couple is basically liking each other," says Dreyfus. "If they are liking each other, they will find a way. If not, their respective families will start feeling like the Sharks and the Jets."
Certain issues that will ultimately break a relationship include lying and infidelity, like in the case of Graves-Toliver, as well as substance abuse and addiction, situations where one party puts work, socializing or something else before the other person, and when an individual feels he or she is "shrinking to fit" to meet the other's needs, feeling marginalized.
Dr. Seth says that a few of the warning signs that the fighting has gone too far include dreading going back home at the end of the day, having flashbacks of hurtful things the other said or did to you that continue to make you feel bad, and having your friends or family comment that they feel uncomfortable with the two of you because the interaction inevitably gets combative.
"In reading back through my journal I see the word SMALL all the time," says Graves-Toliver. "I was constantly insecure, I would come home just to make sure he was home and not on his phone. I stopped going places with my friends because I felt like I always had to be by his side. Every time he went to the bathroom in a restaurant in a bathroom I thought he was on the phone or texting someone else."
Of course it's tough to heal a breach as big as broken trust.
Tips for Fighting Fair
If you want to be sure that you're fighting the fair fight in your relationship, Dreyfus has a few tips for couples. Create a written kind of "flash card," which she says will reinstates goodwill instantly because the effort spent on retrieving and flashing the card &mdashfree of voice tone—conveys a sincerity that both of you have been fighting to regain. She also suggests couples use the age-old "Time Out" sign to indicate that the person needs a break to calm down. The responsibility is on the person who calls the break to come resume the discussion after about 20 minutes. MyDaily: Project Happily Ever After: How Alisa Bowman Saved Her Marriage When The Fairy Tale Failed
Of course, every couple needs to figure out exactly how to best stay cool, collected and ready to have rational discussions—not fight—with one another. Tell us: How often do you and your man argue, and what things do you spar about most frequently?
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Written by Vanessa Voltolina for MyDaily