Why do my girlfriend and I argue so much? We love each other, but we just argue at least once a week.
~The Cranky Couple
The Cranky Couple
There's a pretty good reason why most couples fight, and the good news is that it is not only okay, but some conflict is actually necessary to experience personal, and relationship, growth.
When we fall in love, most of us are flooded with a series of naturally produced chemicals in our system (such as oxytocin, phenylethylaline, dopamine, endorphins, as well as others) that when combined, create an incredible sense of aliveness, energy, focus and feeling of well-being. These chemicals have a way of distorting our sense of reality just long enough that many of us feel compelled to commit to a relationship. (For more on this, read Helen Fisher's book, The Nature and Chemistry of Love).
Once we commit, says author, Harville Hendrix, of Getting the Love You Want, we experience a decline in the production of these chemicals which moves us out of the initial feeling of elation, the first stage of relationship development which he calls the romantic stage. The romantic stage is the period of initial courtship and connection where our entire focus is centered on our similarities. After we spend enough time together focused on how amazingly compatible we are - with emphasis on our similarities, couples often desire a commitment to secure this feeling long into the future.
A commitment for same-sex couples can mean anything from declaring monogamy, to moving in together, to sharing finances, to introducing a partner to your family, or whatever symbolizes a commitment to you. By committing, we are automatically catapulted into the next stage of relationship development called the power struggle. Once committed, the feel-good chemicals begin to diminish, which Helen Fisher suggests is an indication that they've "done their job" by bringing two people together long enough to commit.
In the absence of these feel-good chemicals, our minds clear up enough to notice that we do, in fact, have some differences. Having already committed, Hendrix's theory suggests that we begin to panic a bit, believing that we need to correct these differences in order to have a happy future together. The power struggle is exacerbated by each partner working to mold the relationship into what she wants, without concern for the other's wishes. This is the period in all relationships where we are most likely to fuss, bicker, and fight a lot.
To reassure you that you are not alone, John Gottman, author of several books on relationships, suggests that 69 percent of relationship conflicts are unsolvable. What that means is that according to his 25 years of research, 69 percent of the time couples who have differences of opinions maintain those differences of opinions without resolution or agreement. If for example, you believe a house needs to be cleaned three times a week and your partner believes it needs cleaned three times a year - you are not likely to ever agree on how often a house needs cleaned.
To stop fighting, couples must start understanding. To understand, we must become curious about, not critical of, what drives our partner's behaviors, wishes, and needs. We must develop a sense of compassion. For the partner who calls ten times a day to see where we are; we need to be able to recognize that it may be her anxiety, not her mistrust, that motivates this behavior.
We partner because we believe the person to whom we commit is a good person, and a good partner. Don't let the inevitable differences, that are sure to rise to the surface over time, convince you otherwise. Stay connected to the reasons you feel in love; reminise often, and spend good quality time learning about each other. Stay curious. The goal in love is not to change your partner - but to seek understanding and common ground on which you can both appreciate and accept your differences.
Michele O'Mara, LCSW