How to Have a ‘Good’ Fight With Your Partner

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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What we were trying to do in this book is give people permission, really, and say hey, it is absolutely normal to voice your emotions. It’s good to voice your emotions. And it’s okay to voice your anger, as long as you’re not using the Four Horsemen—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling—to do so. People fail to make a distinction between anger expressed in a healthy way and in an unhealthy way, but it makes a huge difference emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

In the book, you say it’s a myth that “a conflict is a problem to be solved.” I think this would surprise a lot of people—can you explain why it’s beneficial for us to rethink the purpose of conflict, and what the end result of one should be?

JULIE: Here’s the story: People have different brains. What a shocker. And there’s this myth that you’re supposed to marry somebody or be committed to somebody who is a clone of you. You’re supposed to have the same interests, the same passions, the same fears, the same belief systems and ethics. Well, it’s so wrong. We have different experiences. Even if we come from identical cultures, we still are very, very different in our own history. What that means is that we form different personalities and different preferences that we run up against in any relationship.

So what happens with conflicts that are based on lifestyle preference differences? Well, they just keep coming up over and over and over again, like we mentioned before. You can’t turn somebody into a clone of you, and typically those perpetual problems could only be solved by marrying your clone. And even then it’s not going to work, because you’ll be bored out of your mind.

We found in our research that 69% of problems couples struggle with are perpetual, and the only way to deal with them is to learn how to accept those differences. You can’t really solve or change them. You don’t have to love the differences, but accept them, learn how to dialogue about them, and maybe even laugh at them. When they come up, compromise around them and come up with a temporary solution rather than getting gridlocked on it and fighting to try and have things your way when it runs counter to who your partner is as a human being. That’s the story of that.

Can—or should—you ever try to change parts of who your partner is at their core?

JOHN: I think that’s a fundamental aspect of conflict—the differences between two people actually wind up enriching the relationship.

JULIE: I also think that people do change. There are certain ways that John and I have really worked hard to change in order to be kinder to one another. I’m a neat freak, and suffice it to say, John is not. He—poor sweetheart—has had to put up with my saying, “Clean that up!” a fair amount. It used to take maybe six times to ask him to clean something up. Now we’re down to about three—yay! I’m learning how to be much more patient and to understand that, no, that’s not going to be his priority. He’s going to want to go practice violin. And I don’t blame him. But he has tried hard to accommodate my need for tidiness because he knows I turn into a roaring lioness if things aren’t tidy. So he has changed, no question about it.

JOHN: And you have too.

JULIE: I’ve changed too, to be more patient, to be more accepting—accept popcorn on the couch.

JOHN: That’s our latest conflict.

JULIE: Oh, man. You just have to laugh at it. But both people can change. You’re never going to be clones, but you can at least try to be a little bit more of what your partner needs. And that goes back to the game theory.

My final question—have you seen any of the TikTok videos that have gone viral about bidding?

JULIE: We did a TikTok piece that our fabulous new staff person, Nicole, put out there on social media, which was responding to the bird test. They were really fun. So, turning toward is incredibly important, as that really funny, warm, wonderful woman suggested.

‘Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection’ by Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman and Dr. John Gottman

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. 


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