9 Fights Every 20-Something Couple Has That Actually Prove You’re Healthy
You fight with your significant other. I fight with my significant other. We all fight with our significant others.
Spending that much time with another human being can lead to petty arguments and bigger blowups.
But there's good news: Arguing is normal. In fact, fighting with your partner can be healthy, because it's a form of valuable communication that can benefit an honest relationship.
"Productive fights are ones in which the couple 'fights fair,' and focuses on solving the problem at hand," Susan Pease Gadoua, licensed therapist and co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, told Mic. "A productive fight ... includes acknowledgement of the other person's perspective, being truthful and direct, looking for ways to connect and finally, asking for what you want to see more of."
So what are the productive fights healthy young couples hash out? What experts have to say might sound familiar.
1. "Can you not be on your phone all the time?"
We live in an era of infinite digital knowledge and connectivity, so it can be hard to unplug when we're around our partners.
"Millennials are much more reliant on social media to evaluate individuals and their potential and on electronic means of communications. For some, having vulnerable face-to-face discussions and conflicts does not happen often," Merav Gur, a New York-based clinical psychologist, told Mic.
"As such, there is much room for misinterpretation and less chance to practice communicating one's needs and feelings, and to empathize with one's partner."
It goes beyond not checking your email during your weekly viewing of American Horror Story with your significant other (and ignoring his or her annoyed sighs). It means paying attention to how the other person feels about the relationship, and not losing sight of that. As Alisa Bowman, marriage expert and author of Project: Happily Ever After, told Woman's Day, "Energy spent on your phone is energy that's not being put into the relationship."
2. "You are always working, and I never see you anymore."
The most important relationship many 20-somethings have is the one between them and their jobs.
"Millennials' greatest developmental tasks center around exploring and firming their own sense of self, working towards building careers and starting to establish a life path," Gur said. "These tasks are complex and can be stressful."
As we build our own identities via our burgeoning careers, fitting someone else into the picture can be difficult. But while that creates conflict, it stems from something positive: Two independent, ambitious individuals striving to create an interdependent relationship. And learning how to meld two lives into a functioning partnership is an important life skill to develop.
The intensity of early careers also has practical implications: less time to see one another. It's hard to balance work hours and a love life, but it's crucial to communicate when there is an imbalance and to find a way to schedule some couple time. And that might simply be to cuddle; a 2003 study found that 10 minutes of hand-holding and a 20-second hug could lessen the effects of stress.
3. "Your apartment always looks like a bomb went off."
A record number of couples now live together before marriage — a Pew Research Center study puts the cohabitation rate for 18- to 29-year-olds at 9.2%. And cohabitation presents unique challenges; when it comes to the small, petty issues like cleanliness, it's easy to go from ticked off to explosive.
"People build up resentment, and then they snap. The sock becomes a symbol of the relationship as a whole," marriage counselor Carolyn Kelley North told the Wall Street Journal.
But healthy couples won't let a shoe or an unmade bed speak for your relationship. Keeping this anger pent up is probably one of the worst ideas, because if you don't talk about how their messiness (or other living issues) is bothering you, it will simmer below the surface. Studies have shown that cohabiting works best when both partners are invested in the long haul. Healthy couples know that tackling small issues upfront, like cleanliness, can improve a relationship's long-term odds.
4. "I feel like you never listen to me."
If your partner doesn't want to engage in serious conversations because they're afraid of confrontation or want to avoid it all together, then it's reasonable to be upset. Unwilling to communicate and truly hear the other person gets you nowhere, and this issue is worth bringing up.
"Some individuals are conflict avoidant; they shy away from any conflict (which feels more comfortable in the short term) in the expense of the long-term health of the relationship," Gur said.
But talking out issues openly is crucial. As San Diego marriage and family therapist Jennifer McMains told Mic, "Continued unresolved conflicts erode a relationship and cause pain and hopelessness." The hallmark of a healthy relationship is being able to resolve those conflicts through talking.
5. "Why is your ex messaging you on Facebook? Do you still talk to her?"
While jealous feelings can escalate and cause serious rifts in a relationship, being envious from time to time is actually pretty normal. After all, keeping in contact with our exes as never been easier, with all the social media platforms keeping us infinitely connected.
For example, if your boyfriend comments on his ex-girlfriend's newest Instagram photo, it's natural to feel uncomfortable about that. Clinical psychologist Christina Hibbert told Psych Central: "One of the most common types of jealousy is romantic jealousy." Actually accessing the root of the problem is one way to squash these fears and keep it from creeping into all aspects of the relationship. Addressing it head-on instead of letting it consume you is the sign of a good relationship.
6. "Why don't we have sex every day anymore?"
Maybe you and your partner used to have sex multiples times a day, wherever the surface was flat enough. But it's possible the sexual dynamic has changed between you two — you don't want to have sex every day and she does, or she would rather finish a book than get some.
According to Alexanda Solomon, a clinical psychologist and marriage therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, "Our sex drive is always changing, our interests are always changing and our bodies are always changing." This doesn't mean you need to break up. Learning how to communicate these needs about sex are is crucial in order to avoid resentment and hurt feelings later. Talking about your sex life can be the first step to improving it.
7. "So, what, you think I need to lose weight?"
Sometimes we ask for honesty, and it's hard to take what we get. Take, for example, this conversation I had with my fiancé.
Me: "I feel super gross lately. Maybe I should go to the gym or something."
What my fiancé said: "Sure, let's go after I get home from work."
What I heard: "You're right, fatty. You best go to the gym."
Reasonable? Not so much. But that irrationality stems from an insecurity, which is crucial to recognize. "Constructive conflict allows for each member of the couple to become vulnerable, to feel safe in sharing how they feel, to empathize with one's partner's experience, and to have emotional intimacy," Dr. Gur explained. A healthy couple is one where each partner acknowledges the vulnerabilities of the other and is sensitive to them — even if it takes a fight to bring them to the surface.
8. "You act like I'm trying to control you."
It can be difficult for young couples to transition from easygoing flings to the world of commitment. Sometimes one person is afraid of getting too close to their partner, while the other is afraid of losing them. This imbalance is the catalyst for struggles over freedom and control.
Gur illustrated the situation with a theoretical couple, Amy, 26, and Derek, 28, who argue about how much time to spend with one another: "Derek feels that Amy wants to control him and get in the way of his male friendships, and he doubts his ability to make her happy since he senses her constant disappointment. They essentially have the same on-going fight that is triggered whenever Amy is feeling insecure and Derek fears control. They care for each other and yet they are stuck in their perceived notion that Derek lacks commitment and Amy is controlling."
The key is seeing the bigger picture beyond the issue of time spent together. Gur said millennials' arguments often center on blaming the other for how they behave in the relationship. But healthy couples can take the arguments over daily behavior and address them with small, practical changes — then move on to more important things.
9. "It's like you don't take this relationship seriously. Do you even see a future here?"
While older couples face the challenges of children or financial burdens, 20-somethings' relationships face different stressors — namely, said Gur, "evaluating whether their relationships have long-term potential."
Nailing down where the relationship is "going" may be harder now than in previous generations.
"Because people are delaying marriage more, and living together is a viable alternative to marriage, it may create a social confusion as to what the next right step is," Pease Gadoua said. "In many ways, life was simpler when there was no choice. Having alternatives and options is stressful, and there's much more room these days for a wide variety of trajectories."
Which means arguing over the next step is totally normal, especially if you and your significant other don't seem to be on the same page. Figuring that out sooner rather than later might be the healthiest move of all.
The bottom line? Humans are imperfect sacks of bones, flesh and hormones who get angry, sad, and annoyed. But it's how we present those feelings that matters. Communicating is key, even if it's in the form of a fight. Just fight smartly.
"A healthy conflict allows each member of the couple to clearly state their needs in the relationship and to be authentic to their feelings and relationship vision," Gur said. "A productive conflict leads to greater understanding of each other and a greater sense of the relationship's potential."