Of course, you hate having fights of any kind with your significant other. But, disagreements, especially between two people romantically involved are inevitable—and totally normal. What’s more is that fighting in marriage is not always a bad thing. In fact, conflicts between couples are not only good, but necessary for a healthy and enduring relationship, according to Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., dating coach, founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, author of Exaholics and host of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.
“While these conversations can feel intense, the alternative is people bottling up, avoiding each other, not productively solving problems, not truly understanding each other, and having resentments and hostility build and build,” she says. “Furthermore, research into couples and family therapy shows that how often (or dramatically) a couple fights has little relationship to the quality of their relationship, or whether it endures.”
What matters however is how you fight and resolve your conflict. True resolution, she explains, occurs when conflict becomes a doorway for a couple to understand each other more deeply, gain insight into who the other is and how they are feeling and increase compassion and empathy for each other.
Here, relationship experts share a closer look at the ways in which fighting in marriage can actually improve your relationship.
Fighting keeps couples honest.
A fight reveals new information about each partner, such as their desires, goals, and worldview. New information is the path to developing more honest communication and intimacy, when integrated into a relationship. In other words, arguments help you grow together, if you see them as an important tool.
Fighting keeps couples accountable.
Chances are, your partner thinks the world of you, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also notice your shortcomings. And if they’re not speaking up and telling you about these shortcomings, especially the ones that are truly bothering them, it may negatively impact your relationship. “While criticism can sting, a partner’s feedback regarding your role in the relationship is essential to helping you become a better partner,” says Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, and professor of marriage and family therapy. “This does not mean molding yourself to your partner, but it does mean considering your partner’s wants and needs in your actions and decision-making.”
Fighting is a barometer of the relationship.
At times, spouses may not realize they are frustrated with an aspect of the relationship, or a situation, until they argue, Walter points out. “In this way, fighting reveals what is unsaid yet an important reality in a marriage,” she says. “When viewed this way, conflict can be understood as a release valve of sorts, letting unhealthy pressure out from ‘beneath the surface.’”
Fighting is an opportunity to practice good communication.
Any time you fight, you’re sharpening your communication skills—one of the most important tools you need to have in a relationship. “When fights occur, couples have the opportunity to practice clear communication that maintains the wellbeing of the relationship, such as speaking only about the current topic, avoiding insults, listening, and calming down,” says Walter. “When a couple is able to communicate kindly, while feeling frustrated, they have accomplished fighting maturity.”
Fighting can increase passion.
When your emotions are heightened and you’re being honest with how you’re feeling, you’re expressing your sense of passion—both for the relationship and for whatever it is that you’re arguing over. This can lead to an increase in intimacy, notes Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us. “Physical intimacy can be the most vulnerable act for each partner, and to come together in this way after conflict can reinforce commitment and reinforce attachment,” she says.
It gives you some time apart.
Everyone needs a time-out sometimes, notes Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., relationship expert, sex therapist and author of Getting the Sex You Want. “When you argue, it can force you to take some time apart and distance is healthy for a relationship, especially if you’re feeling shut in with each other and spending too much time in a close space,” she says. “Get out, walk around the block, come back and, chances are, you’ll feel refreshed.”