Trouble in Paradise: How to use a fight to get to know your partner better

Last night, Bosch and I went to get drinks for a friend’s birthday. At the bar, an old friend I hadn’t seen since my hometown, Tyler, was at the party too. We got to talking about what we’d been up to since high school, where we worked, and about our relationships.

He’s been with his girlfriend for about three years now and they’ve been living together almost as long. They also work together, so except for the occasional social gathering attended alone, they spend every waking (and sleeping) moment together.

“We fight pretty often,” he said, “but every time we fight, we get better at it.”

My interest was piqued. Bosch and I don’t fight a lot, but we certainly do argue more now that we live together. When we were long-distance and only seeing each other on the weekends, we rarely argued. We never wanted to ruin our precious time together, and honestly, what even is there for two mild-mannered, non-cohabitating people to fight about? For us: not much.

But since we moved in together, the fighting has certainly intensified. Before, we would bicker about little things, usually who’s going to decide what movie we watch and always when one of us is in a bad mood. Now, the fights have more depth and meaning to them. They’re about our future, our compatibility, how we want our lives to be now and in the future. These are important things to argue about, but I always want to make sure we’re going about it the best way we can.

So when Tyler started talking about his arguing expertise, I started taking mental notes. The quote that stuck out the most:

To get better at fighting, you have to figure out what it is about their brain that is making them disagree with your brain.

He reiterated that no two people are built the same, so the key, at least for him and his lady, is not to figure out who is wrong or right, but to truly understand your partner better and get to common ground together. Obviously, this is easier said than done. In the moment, we want so badly to be proven right. It’s human nature.

We show our true colors during the heat of an argument, so what better way to get to know your partner than when they are out on display in all their fallacies? This communication could be the key to making those arguments worth it.

After talking to Tyler, I started to rethink how I want to approach arguments with Bosch — or anyone, for that matter — in the future. For example, if you and your partner get in a fight about who should do the dishes, try unpacking what your partner is saying.

“I literally do the dishes every single night.”

If that’s true, it may be best to make a plan on who does what household chores when. If it’s an exaggeration, dig deeper.

Why does your partner feel like he or she does the dishes every night?

They may not actually be doing the dishes every night, but maybe the chores are unbalanced, and they are doing more of the cleaning, laundry, dog walking, etc. than you. Or maybe it’s deeper.

Does your partner feel like the relationship is unbalanced?

There are a lot of aspects of a relationship that need balance, chores being just one. Finances, emotional needs, sex, alone time, quality time — all of these things need to find balance in your relationship. Perhaps that’s the issue at hand.

Here’s another example: Pretend you and your partner are arguing about whether to get a new pet. Partner 1 wants a dog, but Partner 2 does not. There’s probably more behind what each person is saying on the surface.

Partner 1: I really want a new dog! It would be so good for our family.

The desire for a new pet could be a need for affection in the relationship. Now now, that might sound silly, but think about it. When you’re having a bad day, don’t you love cuddling with your pet? No animal lover can deny that their pets offer much-needed TLC. Perhaps your partner doesn’t exactly want a pet, but just some more love and affection in their life.

Partner 2: This house is too crowded already!

Maybe the house really is tiny and you’re bumping into each other already. Or maybe Partner 2 is feeling a little stifled in your home. Maybe they spend too much time at home and need to get out more. Maybe they don’t get enough alone time and feel like they don’t have any room to breathe.

Partner 1: It’ll be so fun!

Translation: Partner 1 is bored. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Boredom is what keeps us improving all our lives. Boredom is a great motivator. The important thing is to identify the source of the boredom. Is it work? Family? Your relationship? Something isn’t satisfying Partner 1’s brain and it wants to use its energy on a new pet to compensate.

Note: I’m not saying that people with pets are bored in life or lead boring lives. I have two cats and I’m plenty satisfied with my life. I’m just saying that if you did having a boring life, wanting to get a pet may be a likely consequence.

Partner 2: Pets cost too much money.

This one is obvious: Partner 2 is a budgeter. But most people who are happy with their finances feel comfortable spending their hard-earned cash on things that make them happy, such as a dog or cat. So the fact that Partner 2 is going straight to this argument may mean more than what it seems. Are there other financial stresses in your partner’s life you may not realize? Do they have a history of poor money management that is eating at them? Do you have a history of poor management that they’re worried about? Is Partner 2 thinking more about future savings for big things like a house, wedding, or kids that you don’t even have on your radar?

It’s my belief that if you take fights with your partner as a learning experience, it’s bound to help you grow as a couple. If every time you argued, you learned a little bit more about your partner, maybe it’ll eliminate the need for fighting altogether. Maybe.