I used to hate fighting with my girlfriend. I thought it was the absolute worst. I would do just about anything to avoid an argument: I would distract, placate, and ignore. And, to make things worse, my girlfriend loves a good fight. She thrives in conflict.
Of course, nothing I tried ever worked. In fact, most things I did to avoid an argument ended up backfiring, badly.
Building a trusting and healthy relationship with another person is not easy. Disagreements happen; tension builds; and, arguments are unavoidable. Eventually, I stopped fighting the fight. Some arguments are inevitable. And, in the process, I learned how important fights were to a healthy, trusting, and happy relationship with a partner you love and respect.
Small Disclaimer: My teaching experience has been pivotal in my understanding of conflict. I have taught hundreds of 6th graders over the last three years in a Title I school in Atlanta. My kids have grown up in poverty, and were raised in conflict. In order to teach my kids about rocks and water and outer space, I had to build relationships and gain trust, often through conflict and the resolution of conflict.
- - -
After many disagreements, I started not to mind fighting with my girlfriend so much, in part, because I had gotten better at fighting. My mind and spirit had adapted.
Without knowing it, every little disagreement carved a new canal into my cranial capacity. And, the every new disagreement became easier to talk through, and finished faster than the previous one.
Not in a bad way, of course: I hadn’t gotten meaner or more cynical. I had just gotten more comfortable with assertiveness, and more trusting that both my girlfriend and I loved each other and wanted a better relationship.
Caral Dweck is the reigning export on the adaptive qualities of the brain, and the benefits to having a “growth-minded” approach to success, ability, and talent.
The mind, you see, is malleable. And, mindsets around arguments matter more than the topic about which you happen to be arguing.
Every time that you fight with your significant other, you stretch yourself and your brain forms new connections. And, over time, you gain a capacity and an ability to argue with your significant other to achieve a better, more loving relationship.
Relationships are even more malleable than the mind. Disagreements aren’t defects, but opportunities to distill the relationship to a higher proof.
For a while, we fought about everything. Were we spending more nights at my house or hers? Who would drive, and who could have the extra beer at dinner? Was texting permitted in bed, and if so, when?
Soon, something incredible started happening: the more willing we were to fight, the less we ended up fighting.
With the resolution of every disagreement, we learned to trust each other a little bit more. Without any tension buried beneath the surface, the easier it was to tease out what was agitating us.
Here is the thing: a good fight flushes out the reality of a relationship. Fights ruin bad relationship but nourish good ones.
More importantly though, we gained a capacity to disagree other the big stuff: jobs and marriage and relocating to new cities. If we hadn’t fought about the little stuff, we never would have gotten around to the big things.