Every relationship has its fair share of conflicts and disagreements.
However, is it really healthy for couples to argue?
How often does a couple in a healthy relationship argue and how much fighting is too much?
Heather Z. Lyons, PhD
Licensed Psychologist | Couples Counselor | Owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group
How often couples argue is not always a helpful predictor of the health of a relationship.
As counterintuitive as this might sound and as unpleasant as arguments might feel, they can actually help couples come to a common understanding or inspire couples to make changes that strengthen relationships.
What is important to be mindful of is not whether couples argue but how they argue. If couples fight but avoid the following four behaviors they might be ok:
- Stonewalling: Tuning out your partner, shutting down a conversations or arguments
- Defensiveness: Not taking responsibility for your role in a disagreement
- Criticizing: Attacking who your partner is instead of focusing on a single concern
- Showing contempt: Assuming an air of superiority and lack of respect for your partner
Another important indicator of the strength of a relationship when it comes to arguing is whether couples are matched in arguing styles.
If two very passionate and emotional couples or alternatively, two conflict avoidant couples are paired together they’re more likely to feel satisfied with arguments in their relationship than couples who have different styles.
Director and Relationship Counsellor with Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors
Couples who are in “attachment stress” often fight almost constantly.
By attachment stress, we mean that the couples emotional bond is strained.
One or both partners feel that they can not reach each other for reassurance, acceptance or care. Under these conditions, we can come to feel constantly frustrated or irritated and every action of our partner can stir us into an angry protest. Moreover, we are not often aware of the underlying feelings of disconnection and instead are likely to notice surface issues, like partner leaving some dirty dishes or forgetting to call.
Typically, one partner will begin to feel disconnected and will protest this disconnection by pursuing closeness. We call this partner the Pursuing partner. This partner will often complain about the disconnection in a way that is critical or with heightened emotion.
The other partner, feeling blamed or feeling like a failure in the relationship, often withdraws to avoid conflict. We call this partner the Withdrawer. By their withdrawal, the Withdrawing partner creates further fear of disconnection in the Pursuing partner, who becomes even more critical, emotional and often blaming. This interaction pattern then becomes cyclical, which we call a couples reactive cycle of conflict. Each partner reacts to the other’s behavior.
Humans are primed to look to our partner to see if they are accessible, responsive and engaged and when we don’t feel that they are, we are biologically wired to try and reach them to reestablish closeness. That means that couples can be very irritable and can get into seemingly unending cycles of conflict until the affectional bond is restored.
Finally, it’s important to note, that some couples hardly ever fight but aren’t happy. These can be couples who have burnt out or who simply keep too much of a distance from each other.
How we often we fight is less of an issue, than whether we are able to repair our bond afterward.
Stephanie Macadaan, LMFT
Licensed therapist | Creator of The Happy Couple Plan
In a healthy relationship, the key is not how much you fight, but how well you fight.
If your fights leave you feeling unheard, misunderstood, and disconnected that is a danger sign. If your arguments play out in a way in which you both feel emotionally safe with each other, that is a good sign.
The key is finding the balance of not stuffing your feelings and being able to squabble with each other as much as needed because it feels safe to do so, you know your partner will hear you, it will not threaten the relationship and you won’t be filled with resentment afterward. Couples tend to get caught in a cycle that they repeat over and over in conflicts, about big things and little things.
The key is identifying that cycle and adjusting it so that you both feel heard, which leads to a deeper connection and feeling bonded.
Relationship Coach | Breakup & Divorce Expert, LoveLearnings
If you’re fighting every day then you’re fighting too much.
If you’re fighting with your partner every day, if it’s interfering with your ability to connect, or if it’s having a negative impact on your life outside the relationship, then you’re fighting too much.
These are signs of an unhealthy dynamic or a couple that’s incompatible.
Another sign your fighting is unhealthy is if you avoid specific activities that you know will lead to a fight. For example, if you can’t get through a trip to the mall without screaming at one another, then you need to take a look at what’s keeping you two apart. Love and passion are important but you need a baseline of trust, comfort, and respect to have a healthy relationship. Excessive fighting makes this impossible.
On the flip side, many people think that a healthy relationship means no arguments and smooth sailing. But a lack of fighting can actually be the sign of a relationship in decline. It means that one or both parties have stopped trying to solve problems or that they’re too afraid of what their partner will do if they criticize them in any way.
I tell my clients to fight smarter, not harder.
This means don’t let fights escalate to the point of doing damage to the relationship. Keep things focused and on topic, don’t raise your voices and listen to each other’s point of view before responding.
Sophia Reed, Ph.D., NCC
Marriage and Family Therapist | National Certified Counselor
No average amount of times.
There is no “average amount of times” on how often a couple should argue but rather how they argue. You can disagree with a lot of things. You can disagree with each other every day if you want to. After all, a couple has two people in it who are not the same and have different opinions on how things should go. Arguments will happen.
But the danger is if when a couple argues and it becomes destructive and a way to bash each other or name call.
Or if when they argue, they say things to intentionally hurt each other or try to make the other person feel bad about themselves for not agreeing with them. Another red flag is when one person or both people just argue for the sake of arguing and they just want to be “right” and have no real merit or basis for what they are arguing about. That is not a healthy couple or a healthy argument.
A real healthy relationship knows that even when you argue that you still respect each other, love each other, and accept that it is okay to agree to disagree.
The sign of a healthy relationship is when during an argument one or both people are willing to compromise and come up with a solution just to keep peace in the relationship.
Adina Mahalli, MSW
Social Worker and Relationship Expert on behalf of Maple Holistics
No “one-size-fits-all” answer.
It should come as no surprise that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how often healthy couples fight. That being said, it’s the “holding a grudge” aspect of the argument that really defines the length of the argument.
Healthy couples may or may not fight daily, but they don’t hold onto the argument long after its over.
If you’re constantly in an argument with your partner, and one or both of you just can’t let it go, it could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. On the flip side, if you’re arguing one minute but laughing the next, the amount of times that you fight isn’t a factor in how healthy the relationship is.
Marriage Coach and Relationship Expert, Foundations Coaching NC | Author of the book, “Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work“
Any two people will disagree, but fighting is a choice.
Couples in healthy relationships know this and have developed productive ways to handle it when they disagree.
John Gottman has determined that 67% of all disagreements can go unresolved. Healthy couples know which 33% need to be addressed. In other words, they know which battles need to be fought. That doesn’t mean they actually fight, however, but if they do, it is rare.
People in healthy relationships get tired, hangry, don’t feel well, get distracted, or misunderstand just like the rest of us. It is at these times that arguments can occur.
But they also can rein them in before they get out of control. They are able to table whatever is creating friction to a better time without feeling abandoned or unimportant. They also have learned good communication skills and use them. This is what makes them healthy couples.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Clinical Instructor at Mt. Sinai Medical Center
There isn’t a single metric for this.
What is important to know is that all relationships have some conflict – that this is inevitable because two minds are not always perfectly in sync (nor would we expect this).
What is important is not how much conflict but really, how is conflict handled in the relationship?
How are things getting resolved (or not)? Is the couple consistently having the same conflicts repeatedly? Do they move past current conflicts and on towards new ones? When there is a conflict, how do they communicate about it? What is the outcome?
If a couple is struggling with this, there are ways to assist them.
Author, “Love Now!: Untangling Relationships“
Fighting is a sign of the inability to “separate” from the other person.
It is difficult to accept the fact that although we may be bonded to each other, we have different needs and perspectives on reality. Fighting is a demand that the other be just like me.
When couples discover each other, they usually go through a period of experiencing the delight of feeling like they have found their “soulmate,” the perfect companion, someone with whom they finally feel oneness.
This is a period of bonding, in which that experience of oneness, or of “fusion,” is exquisitely comforting. This period is short-lived, serving to bring us together to be “learning partners” in life, for none of us are fully educated in the challenge of having a relationship.
After this initial period, we enter a phase of needing to learn how to move appropriately along a continuum of closeness, or fusion, and separateness. While no one gets upset if the other person needs to physically separate to do a task (or go to the bathroom!), we tend to get very upset at the reality of emotional separateness, for it threatens the cozy closeness that was the source of the comfort of oneness.
A fight is simply the signal that we are stuck in “fusion” and need to take a step back – and take a really big breath! – and separate: look at our partner as a being with their own reality, needs and solutions.
Our culture is an Either-Or culture. Either I exist or you do. And no one wants to disappear. The challenge is to create a solution that satisfies the needs of us both. As imperfect as it may be, it still allows us both to exist, rather than one person being forced or feeling that they need to disappear.
Sexuality and Relationship Expert
Arguing upon occasion is extremely normal and healthy in relationships.
I often find that couples that never openly argue or disagree often don’t feel comfortable to fully express the way they feel.
Making decisions with another person takes work and it is highly unlikely that two people will always agree on decisions about boundaries, relationships, politics and sometimes simply what to eat for dinner and when to leave social engagements.
Arguing upon occasion is extremely normal and healthy in relationships. However, what happens following the argument is more telling whether the relationship is healthy or not.
In healthy relationships, couples are able to fight but then move on and still express love and affection for each other. However, in unhealthy or abusive relationships one or both partners are unable to let the subject go and may manipulate the situation or gaslight the other partner, acting differently than they would normally act following a disagreement.
This is often part of a larger pattern in the relationship where one partner has power over the other partner and uses that to control and isolate them. However, it’s not necessarily unhealthy if a couple often has disagreements where they have differing opinions and express them in a potentially unthoughtful or unkind way, but the power dynamics are equal and both partners are able to move on post argument.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Certified Imago Relationship Therapist | Co-Founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
There is no ironclad rule for how often couples fight in a healthy relationship.
The truth is, that there are always ups and downs in any relationship.
However, couples who are in a healthy relationship fight less and when they do, their recovery time is quicker, because they have a strong baseline and the tools to help them get back on track, process the conflict and reconnect.