Healthy and unhealthy arguments in relationships & how to solve them

When you’re dating someone and things are getting serious, having arguments will be inevitable. However, there’s no reason to worry. All couples fight. We all have different opinions on some topics.

There are some arguments, though, that can be an indicator of the relationship becoming toxic or that being with that person wasn’t good for you in the first place.

Here’s Renee Slansky’s advice on how to identify healthy vs. unhealthy arguments, how to deal with them, and when to better call it quits.

illustration of a man and a woman in conflict

Is arguing in a relationship unhealthy?

It’s often thought that arguing is a sign of a toxic relationship, when in fact conflict is normal and even essential to some degree.

Even happy couples squabble and will go through seasons of not seeing eye to eye. 

However, we need to put this into perspective, so that we aren’t sugar coating toxic behaviour or volatile relationships.

Whilst some conflict is healthy, constant arguing that does not bring peace or progress is not.

The aim of any healthy relationship is to use conflict as a means to resolve issues and express emotions. This means that not agreeing on something is an opportunity to try and enhance your relationship, not degrade it.

Unfortunately, the reason why arguing becomes toxic to a relationship, is because it is not handled the right way. Or both people have core issues that trigger consistent fighting.

Healthy and Common Arguments in Relationships: Examples

If you are in a serious relationship, an argument is inevitable at some point. However, what is important is to be able to identify if your conflict is healthy or toxic.

Here are a few of the most common areas for arguing in a relationship and why they can turn into a couples fight: 

Finance

According to statistics, finance was one of the leading factors for relationship breakdowns.

Feeling financially under pressure puts a lot of strain on relationships and can cause arguments.

Excess spending, lack of cash flow, debt and bills are all common subjects that start fights.

Couples can’t deny that discussing finance is a normal part of a relationship, however they need to be sure that when talk about finances that it is done when both people are feeling emotionally level.

Unmet expectations 

The main cause for the majority of arguments is unmet expectations.

When one person does not live up to the idea or standards of the other, it causes conflict between a couple.

The best way to avoid this argument is to communicate your expectations along the way so that you can make sure you are both on the same page.

Lack of trust 

Assumption, insecurity, lack of communication and toxic behaviour all leads to lack of trust. Without trust in a relationship you cannot have peace or growth.

In order to know if you lack of trust is warranted or not, pinpoint the source for this emotion.

Is one person being elusive or concealing certain parts of their life?

Or does one significant other struggle with trusting due to being hurt from past relationships?

Change

If one person has changed or refuses to change for the better, then this will cause arguing.

Or if circumstances have changed, then this new dynamic can create conflict in a couple.

Because we are humans who are constantly evolving, some form of change is inevitable.

Be sure to date someone for their reality not their potential to avoid being disappointed if they don’t change into the person you want them to be.

Keep each other accountable to being better partners and talk through any change that has been inflicted on you both.  

Unmet Needs 

When one person doesn’t have their needs or love language fulfilled, it can lead to excessive arguing. This is because they can feel neglected, unfulfilled, devalued or even tempted to fall out of love.

The key to avoiding this is constant communication about expectations and regular check ins with each other to make sure you are on the same page.

What is unhealthy fighting in a relationship & When and why do arguments become toxic?

Whilst we have established that some fighting in a relationship is normal and even vital to a degree, we need to set a clear boundary with this.

The last thing you want to do is justify or dismiss toxic behaviour and toxic arguing.

Here are the red flags  to look out for that indicate that you are having unhealthy arguing:

couple fighting on their couch

Abusive conflict – Any type of abuse, whether it be verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse will also be toxic. If an argument escalates and ends up with abusive reactions, hurtful name-calling or even domestic violence then your conflict has become toxic.

Whilst pressure and stress can make arguments heated, it never justifies abuse.  

Emotional blackmail–  This could be in the form of gas lighting, radio silence and personal attacks. Toxic arguing is when one person manipulates or punishes the other person through emotional blackmail.

You should never feel emotional hostage in a relationship. Walking on eggshells to avoid your partner blowing up or having them play with your feelings to get a reaction from you is not healthy behaviour.

Drama inciting– We all know fights can be dramatic at times due to heightened emotion. However, if one person creates drama on purpose to gain a reaction or control then this has become toxic arguing.

This will frequently involve ultimatums and extreme emotional responses and reactions.  

Volatile relationships often involve extreme emotions and extreme actions from one or both people in a relationship.

Silence and indifference– Conflict isn’t always verbal. Radio silence that is used to punish can be just as toxic. Or lack of conflict when both or one person just doesn’t care anymore and becomes indifferent also is a sign of a toxic situation. 

Stonewalling is also a sign of an unhealthy relationship and usually the beginning of it’s demise. 

How to handle arguments in relationships

Like any area in a relationship, you can actually do something to make it better. Because conflict will be an inevitable part of any relationship, we have to learn how to use it in a way that it doesn’t penalise and destroy our marriages.

Understanding how to argue with love, wisdom and grace gives us an opportunity to grow through what we go through. 

Here are some practical and effective ways to have a healthy fight: 

Respond don’t react – A huge reason why arguing becomes unhealthy is because it stems from an emotional reaction, build up or outburst. When we have a reactive mind-set, it leads to a reactive and volatile relationship.

Learning to ‘practice the pause’ means you can have more control over what you choose to say and do in moments of conflict. This means you are consciously communicating your emotions and thoughts, instead of being led by heightened feelings.  

vector art of man comforting a woman

Listen and Ask to Understand Not Demand – Arguments become unhealthy when we demand and talk more than we listen. When you are frustrated, angry or hurt, it’s normal to want to spurt everything you feel needs to be said.

However, this makes communication a one-way channel which doesn’t make it neutral ground for you to try and resolve the issues.

Try to choose what really needs to be said by saying less and listening more to what the other person has to say. Not only will this set you up to respond instead of react, but it gives you time to put things into perspective and choose more effective responses to the conflicting issue.

Take turns in talking– This will take self-control, and if that is something that one or either person lacks then try the wooden spoon method.

This method is when the person with the spoon does the talking then they pass the spoon to the other to take turns. Essentially whoever has the spoon gets to speak, whilst the other is forced to listen and reflect.

It won’t be easy and cutting the other person off or talking over them will be tempting!  

However, by allowing each other to have their say, you create a safe space for conflict communication.

Repeat Back – One of the frustrating things that happens in arguments is that we often feel like what we say lands on deaf ears. By repeating back what the other person says, you can verbalise your level of comprehension and also add more weight to their words.

It levels up the accountability on both ends and helps clarify everything that is said in the heat of emotions.

How to fix a relationship after a big argument

If you are in a serious relationship and want it to last, then you have to learn conflict resolution. When in doubt, you can always consult a relationship coach or even a psychotherapist to learn how to cope with arguments in a healthy way.

Whilst fixing a relationship after a big argument isn’t a fast process nor a guaranteed one , it can be aided by the following things :

Communicate – A timeout can help, but radio silence is not going to solve anything. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable about talking about everything. Healthy relationships require constant communication even in difficult seasons. Communicating after an argument brings clarity, healing and direction for what to do next.

Empathise – Being empathetic towards the other person helps create a sense of support and intimacy after a big fight. It also reiterates that any vulnerability is ok and that you have created a safe space in your relationship for emotions to be expressed.

Listen-  Become an active listener to how the other person feels by affirming what they are saying and repeating it back to them. This makes them feel valued and heard which again helps with healing.

Ask – When in doubt ask them how you can make it up to them or what they need to be able to move forward from this conflict. Asking is the best way to remove assumptions and make the other person feel valued.

Plus, it gives you direction to know how to start activating the healing after the argument.

Affirm – Tell them what you do love or like about them so that you can focus on the positive. Affirm their feelings and point of view as well so that you can show them you are ready to honour who they are and grow as a partner in your relationship.

Forgive –  This is a huge component of being able to fix a relationship after an argument. Whilst forgiving isn’t always easy it is necessary. Verbalise forgiveness over them and yourself or ask for forgiveness. It doesn’t mean that the hurt or issues goes away, however it is the first step to being able to move forward.

What to do when you’re fighting a lot: when should you break up? & How to reduce arguments

Conflict in a relationship should be minimal. If you are fighting a lot, then it’s normal to feel strain on your relationship. The goal should always be to reduce arguments and to be able to fix your relationship as quickly as possible after an argument.

illustration of a man bringing flowers to a woman to apologize and the woman dismissing it

Learning how to have a healthy argument means you can keep your relationship stable during times of conflict.

Here are some effective ways to help reduce arguing in a relationship:

Get to the core– Try and pinpoint what the core issues are for conflict. The best way to do this is look at what the triggers are and what words are spoken each time in a fight. Some common core issues are based off childhood trauma, deep resentment and unmet expectations.  

If these core issues aren’t resolved then conflict will continue to mount and get worse causing a relationship breakdown.   

Get objective help– By involving a third objective person, you allow for another perspective. This could be through a family member or friend or better yet a professional counsellor or relationship expert.

Asking for help means the emotional stress can be shared and directed in a way that actually helps you get through all the arguments.  

Have a plan – Expecting all the arguing to just disappear without doing anything is not going to work. You need to have a plan either individually or together as a couple to be able to make your relationship more harmonised and peaceful.

Lack of direction in seasons of conflict leads to further division, temptation and complacency.

Focus on harmony – Whatever we feed is what grows, and whilst you shouldn’t be sweeping issues under the rug, you can still focus on the positive. Remembering what you love about each other, what you have in common and verbalising harmonious statements helps build more peace into your relationship.

Every relationship will go through seasons of trial, however choosing to work through those season with grace, wisdom and grit is what will make the difference in it going the distance.