When my husband and I were newly married, I had the highest level of sophistication when it came to our fights.
Seriously, are you ready for this?
Each and every time we would fight, to ensure that I would get my point across effectively and as lovingly as possible (to protect our fragile new marriage, of course), I would do one of two things:
1) Simmer silently until I would explode into one giant, incoherent, babbling and furious mess that would make exactly zero sense and accomplish exactly nothing towards a solution
2) Shut down completely and sulk for days, burying the problem or pretending it didn’t exist. Which, of course, as you can imagine, usually led back to scenario #1.
For whatever reason, I was a complete and total disaster as a newlywed trying to learn the ropes of honest, adult communication in a relationship. Luckily for me, my husband happened to be a much better “fighter” than I was (yes, I think that’s a real word, ok?) and taught me–patiently–that we could actually get to the point in our relationship where we could (gasp!) have dialogue openly without killing each other or sulking away forever.
Also, luckily for me, I know that I’m not alone in my failures as a fighter. As I recently found out in an interview with psychologist Dr. Carla, there are several different fighting styles that she sees among couples–myself included.
The 9 fighting styles of couples… 1 of 11
"Fighting styles arise from communication patterns learned from early childhood through adult life," says Dr. Carla. "Whether adopting fighting styles modeled by parents, siblings, or friends, each individual tends to become unconsciously accustomed to certain style of combat. Interestingly, a person's combat style is not necessarily static and can vary depending upon situations and persons involved. In my work with couples, I have noticed several common conflict management styles that tend to arise in relationships. Some styles of combat add to the health of a relationship, while other styles cause either subtle or overt damage over time. I have found that some of the most frequently noted fighting styles include..."
Image via J & J Brusie Photography
Abusive Bully. 2 of 11
"The abusive bully tends to be highly aggressive and confrontational," says Dr. Carla. "With this style, there is only one 'right way,' and that way is determined by the bully's point of view. 'My way or the highway' is a common attitude for the bully. Name-calling, threats, demeaning jabs, and sarcasm are tools commonly used in this style of combat. The bully thrives by controlling and dominating others. Power at all costs is the name of the game for the bully. This style of fighting is incredibly toxic and harmful to relationships."
Image via eVo photo/Flickr
Dominator 3 of 11
"Similar to the bully, the dominator wants to only his or her opinion to be heard. Rather than resorting to open abuse, the dominator will aggressively maneuver and compete to ensure that opposing points of view are quashed. The dominator utilizes powerful verbal and nonverbal behavior to maintain control in the fight. In the dominator's eyes, the name of the game is winning," Dr Carla explains.
Image via Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet/Flickr
Poor Victim 4 of 11
"The victim tends to take whatever is dished out," says Dr. Carla. "Rather than speaking out or standing up honestly and assertively, the victim tends to fall into a trap of denying, making excuses, or blaming others to avoid responsibility. The victim often displays emotions (e.g., crying out of frustration, hurt, and shame), but there is normally a severe lack of appropriate open and authentic reflection and communication."
Image via @Fips/Flickr
Silent Sulking 5 of 11
Ok, this was totally me. And Dr. Carla described it to a 't.': "Similar to the victim, the sulker does not create healthy boundaries for conflict. The sulker passively and quietly absorbs the heat of the conflict. However, the sulker will tend to make his or her displeasure known by a refusal to communicate openly, often to the point of not speaking at all. In order to vent anger, the general silence is often punctuated by the clattering of dishes, the banging of doors, or nearly inaudible muttering. "
Image via Eric Kilby/Flickr
Compartmentalizer 6 of 11
"Personal logic and facts rule this type of fighting style. To avoid dissonance and the resulting anxiety, the compartmentalizer tends to put conflicts neatly in a shoebox. If the issue can't be rationalized, logically sorted, or assimilated into his or her paradigm, it is put out of sight and out of mind. The compartmentalizer finds it easier to address conflict by making the issues "black and white" or "right and wrong." The compartmentalizer turns off by packing away discord."
Image via Bohman/Flickr
Avoider 7 of 11
"The avoider simply does not like becoming unsettled. The name of the game is keep homeostasis at all costs. It is common for the avoider to shut down and close off to emotions, disagreements, and situations that might involve conflict. The avoider will do nearly anything to avoid fighting openly, all the while oblivious to the fact that avoidance itself is a style of fighting. This style employs a wide variety of tactics to avoid conflict. Whether working late, drinking all night, playing an X-Box until the wee hours, or facing the computer screen rather than a partner, the avoider will do nearly anything to avoid overt confrontation and conflict."
Image via Ed Yourdun/Flickr
Passive-Aggressive Player 8 of 11
At first blush, a passive-aggressive fighting style may seem like the best way to go. Not to harsh, but not totally avoiding the issues. But, Dr. Carla says:"Beware the passive-aggressive fighter! This style of fighting tends to be extremely harmful to the health of a relationship. The passive-aggressive fighter wants power and control but does not go about obtaining it openly. This fighting style often employs a submissive faÃ§ade that disappears after the actual conflict has occurred. Behind the scenes, the compliant faÃ§ade falls away and a pattern vengeful tactics take over. By using stealthy "payback" methods, the passive-aggressive player's harmful games erode the foundation of the relationship."
Image via andrewrennie/Flickr
Open and Accepting 9 of 11
"This style of fighting tends to be very empathic and forgiving. The open and accepting fighting style wants to be heard yet also wants to acknowledge and hear the other person's point of view. Keeping the health of the relationship in the forefront, this combat style allows for open conflict. In general, conflict is appreciated and given plenty of space. Outbursts of emotion are honored and seen as normal venting processes. When disagreements and fighting occur, homeostasis is restored by openly respecting and allowing for differences of opinion. The name of the game for this fighting style is "live and let live."
Image via Ed Yourdon/Flickr
Explorer 10 of 11
The explorer is similar in many ways to the open and accepting fighter, with one important addition, according to Dr. Carla. "Understanding and growth are paramount for the explorer," she explains. " The explorer views healthy fighting as an educational experience. As a result of utilizing differences of opinion and conflict to engender greater understanding within the relationship, the explorer welcomes healthy combat. This fighting style appreciates the importance of facilitating awareness and cooperation during conflict. The name of the game for the explorer is utilizing conflict to keep the relationship dynamic and strong."
Everyone is different. 11 of 11
"Of course, there are many other variations and styles of fighting within relationships," Dr. Carla finishes. " The above descriptions highlight some of the more basic, pronounced styles I have noted when working with couples. When looking at fighting styles and patterns within your own relationships, it important to strive for a nonjudgmental stance. Rather than honing in on your faults or those of your partner, take an open and candid look at the habits that are not working for you. By reflecting honestly on how you can improve your fighting abilities, you support your own psychological health and growth—and that of your relationship! "