CAN you be a lover and a fighter? In my last relationship, I definitely thought so.
My ex-husband and I got into arguments all the time, from full-blown barneys in the supermarket to snide comments across the bathroom sink.
We once had a rum-fuelled screaming match at a festival that drew a crowd. Let’s just say it’s lucky the pint glasses were plastic. I used to think our regular rows “kept things exciting”. And not just because they occasionally led to make-up sex.
I thought any couple who said they never argued were either lying or not going to last. But given that we’ve now split up, I’m starting to wonder if fights really are that healthy.
In a new book, Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart And How They Can Bring Us Together, writer Ian Leslie makes the, er, argument that a clash of perspectives is the key to happy relationships and creative breakthroughs. He reckons we just need to discover a new way to confront our differences, because “productive disagreements” can be beneficial.
What’s interesting is that, although I was going in all guns blazing in my relationships, in other areas of my life I avoided cross words at all costs. I’d be passive-aggressive with colleagues or give family and friends the silent treatment rather than get into a row.
If someone said something negative on social media about an article I’d written, I’d stew on it instead of engaging in a furious back and forth. In his book, Ian Leslie points out that avoiding a slanging match can actually be more damaging than fighting it out.
He proposes an emergency toolkit for having a productive argument, which includes “stop trying to be right all the time”, “don’t tell others how to think or feel” and “stop saying ‘you’, as it annoys people”.
In many ways, I think he might have a point. Look at how polarised we became over Brexit, with one side of the country completely shutting down the arguments of the other. If we don’t listen and debate with people who have different views, we’ll never get very far outside our bubble.
Done right, conflict can be an opportunity to learn about another point of view
In my current relationship, we argue a lot less and this book has made me wonder if we’re missing out on something by swerving our squabbles.
Research carried out by the University of Washington found that couples who argued frequently were more likely to be in stable marriages than couples who avoided arguments.
We’re definitely in the minority – a recent survey found that the average couple argues 156 times a year, normally about where to order dinner from. A Deliverow, if you will.
Although Guy and I occasionally have our moments, we’re both aware of when we slip out of amiable bickering and into something more. The dreaded “blame game” or getting competitive about who’s done what are big red flags we both try to avoid.
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We make an effort to talk to each other with politeness and courtesy, not provocation and needling. It helps that we both tend to want to order pizza.
So while there’s a lot to be said for airing grievances when you need to, it’s also good to step back from the slanging match.
I certainly feel much calmer, happier and less stressed. And that’s something worth fighting for, I reckon.
● Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites
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