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Why We Fight — And What We Want Out of It

Why We Fight — And What We Want Out of It

Anyone who’s ever had a tiff with her partner about dirty socks on the floor or whose turn it is to load the dishwasher—and had that tiff turn into a battle about everything and anything else—knows that sometimes what we fight about isn’t really what we’re fighting about. Research published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology supports that hunch…and sheds some light on why we fight, and why sometimes kissing and making up is hard to do.

Past research on thousands of married people came to the conclusion that, no matter what you’re fighting about, there are just two basic types of underlying concern when you’re mid-fight:

1. Perceived threat: when a person feels like their partner is critical or demanding and is threatening his or her status

2. Perceived neglect: when a person feels like their partner is being disloyal or inattentive and is showing a lack of investment in the relationship

In other words, a cigar is not just a cigar, and a fight about socks on the floor is not really a fight about socks on the floor.

A recent study at Baylor University built on those findings and dug deeper, asking hundreds of married couples to independently list their desired resolution to a relationship conflict. Everything from minor misunderstandings to major ongoing conflicts were brought up, but researchers found that each one of them actually fell into just a handful of types of desired conflict resolution. From most to least common, scientists found that warring partners wanted their significant other to:

1. Relinquish power

2. Show investment in the relationship

3. Stop adversarial behavior

4. Communicate more

5. Give affection

6. Make an apology

An “I’m sorry” was last on the list of things that would fix things—fighting couples want their partner to be willing to relinquish power, which the study categorizes as giving a partner more independence, admitting faults, showing respect, and being willing to compromise.

“We definitely respond to whether we gain or lose status,” said researcher Keith Sanford, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences. When trying to make up after a fight, keep in mind what the underlying concern was—perceived threat or perceived neglect—in figuring out what to do to patch things up. “When we feel criticized, we are likely to have underlying concerns about a perceived threat to status, and when that happens, we usually want a partner simply to disengage and back off,” says Sanford. “The husband might buy flowers, and that might be helpful if his partner has a concern involving perceived neglect. But if the partner has a concern involving perceived threat, then the flowers won’t do much to address the issue.” My takeaway: when having a fight with a significant other, treat the cause, not the symptom.

Related:
5 Ways to Fight Fair with Your Partner

Read more: Dating, Love, Relationships

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Diana Vilibert

Diana Vilibert is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. You can be blog-friends with her at dianavilibert.com, or tweet her at @dianavilibert.

55 comments

+ add your own
12:17PM PDT on Aug 30, 2014

Thank you

7:48PM PDT on Aug 11, 2013

I completely agree with this article the only problem is getting my man to read it. and retain it...

6:34AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Want confirmation as to the validity of the investment by both and value of moving forward ... or not.

Visit "adjustments" felt necessary by one or both (through not only talking, but listening).

Decision to stay or go, based on trial-and-error results.

9:43PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

Thanks for posting

5:30AM PDT on Jul 25, 2013

Only if it's constructive

10:23AM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

thanks for posting

9:03AM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

ty

8:08AM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

Thanks.

4:35AM PDT on Jul 18, 2013

Thanks

7:28PM PDT on Jul 17, 2013

Thank you :)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

Thank you :)

Just because Australian money is called dollars doesn't mean that it is worth the same.

Beautiful reminder. Thank you!:))

It's good to know that people are there to help. TY

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