There is probably nothing more upsetting to couples than fighting with each other. When we fall in love and get married, we get caught up in the Hollywood fantasy that everything will be roses and moonlight.
We see ourselves in the romance of some movie, like last year’s LaLa Land. Honestly, scenes from such movies are like a drug. They light up the pleasure centers in our brains. "I want that!" we say.
I would like a simple and romantic life like that too. But it’s not real. You have to separate fantasy from reality.
How many scenes that make you feel good in the movie theater are of a mom grocery shopping alone, or with her kids in a crowded store on a Saturday morning?
What about a young businessman on a stressful negotiation for three hours on a weekend while his wife is relaxing on the couch, drinking coffee and reading a magazine.
Life is stressful, and couplehood does not erase all the stresses.
Research has found that high exposure to romantic movies led to a greater tendency to believe “love finds a way” and can overcome all obstacles. Higher exposure to marriage-themed reality shows also led research participants to believe in “love at first sight” and that true love will be nearly perfect (what researchers call “idealization”).
That means we're holding each other to the standards of unreal people, false scenarios, and advertising. We’re creating a desire to have the romance that everyone else has, just because we see it or hear it or read about it.
The only movies I know that give subtle portrayals of the kinds of tense interactions which occur in coupled life are Ingmar Bergman films, and very few people watch them. Why? Because they’re depressing.
Listen, all the research says happy couples fight, and having fights is normal and healthy. Couples that don’t fight at all are often brushing conflict under the rug, and that does not work.
In my experience, unexpressed anger and resentment at not expressing what is bugging you fuel all kinds of couple problems — affairs and pornography addictions are two examples.
It's important that you normalize the fact that you fight. Most couples tend to have automatic negative thoughts about their spouses, often related to the “the grass is greener” myth.
So a man who is angry because his wife isn’t interested in sex as much as he is has an unsubstantiated fantasy that his buddy’s spouse is always ready for a roll in the hay.
And a woman who is angry that her male partner does not do his share of taking care of the kids thinks that he is a selfish beast.
I find that it helps couples to realize that for the most part, their fights are typical.
Below are data from a large, scientific study of couples. When you look at at, you’ll see that your marriage and your conflicts might not be all that unusual.
I hope that these data will change your automatic negative thoughts about your partner. It’s not the fact that you have these conflicts that is the problem.
How Men and Women Ranked Reasons for Fighting
However, if you are fighting unfairly or in a way that is demeaning or violent, by all means get help from a professional.
Otherwise, check in with your partnered friends who are honest in what they tell you about their lives, ask them about the nitty gritty of their lives
You’ll see that your life is normal. Cherish the good times, hash out your differences, and cut each other some slack.
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