5 Fights That Only Toxic Couples Have
Relationship experts say these particular kinds of conflicts are a major red flag.
Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, no matter how compatible you are with your partner or how rock-solid your bond is. Experts agree that it's how you engage in conflict that matters. Certain types of arguments and behaviors during conflict can turn downright toxic, eroding the trust, respect, and sense of security in the relationship.
"A fight can be considered toxic when it's not productive in any way," says Alana Carvalho, a licensed mental health counselor and relationship expert. "In other words, the fight doesn't help work through any issues but instead is used as a way to be hurtful towards your partner. These fights are often ones where names are called, put-downs are used, and blaming is a central aspect."
Toxic fights aren't always necessarily a sign that you need to end a relationship, adds Carvalho. They are, however, a sign that you need to seek help—say, from a couple's therapist—and set some ground rules for what is and isn't OK during an argument.
Wondering what your conflicts say about your relationship? Here are some fights that only toxic couples have, according to experts.
Repetitive fights about the same issue
Ever feel like you're having déjà vu when you fight with your partner? That's a red flag, says Carvalho.
"One toxic fight that I commonly see is a repetitive fight in which the same argument happens over and over again without resolution," she tells Best Life. "Repeatedly arguing over the same thing means that either one or both partners are not following through on the next steps. It can also mean that there are deeper underlying issues that remain unresolved."
For instance, if you and your partner keep having financial disagreements, there's obviously a disconnect in your expectations about how money should be handled. Or, if you keep fighting about housework, then you clearly haven't found a way to share the responsibilities in a way that feels fair to both of you. That's likely because you've been unable or unwilling to hear each other's perspectives and come up with a compromise.
Fighting with the sole intention of winning
"The main characteristic of a toxic fight is when one or more participants don't have the goal of finding a solution to the issue," says Avigail Lev, PsyD, a licensed cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) and founder of Bay Area CBT Center and CBT Online.
When you're fighting solely to win, you'll always be crafting your next response rather than actually listening to what your partner is telling you. You'll brush off their thoughts and feelings, and refuse to take any responsibility for your role in the problem.
Even if one person in the relationship is interested in resolving the issue, it can be problematic if the other partner has a different agenda.
"Maybe one person wants to negotiate a solution and the other person wants to make the other person feel guilty," explains Lev. "Or maybe one person wants to be understood and the other person wants to be right. Maybe one person wants to problem-solve an issue and the other person wants to blame."
Until you and your partner can focus on listening to each other, rather than just making your case, you likely won't ever feel satisfied with how your fights end.
Denying each other's realities
Gaslighting—a form of emotional abuse that entails making the other person question their reality—is a toxic behavior, full stop. According to Carvalho, this type of manipulation can take a serious toll on a person's self-esteem and self-trust.
Whether you realize it or not, you and your partner may be gaslighting each other if you're continually denying each other's experiences—for example, by saying "That never happened!" when you don't want to acknowledge something hurtful you did.
Invalidating each other's realities can breed toxic fights that aren't likely to get resolved because you can't even agree on the details of what occurred.
Playing the blame-shifting game
It goes a little something like this: You confront your partner about something that hurt you. Your partner says their behavior is your fault because of something you said or did. You then make an excuse for that behavior because of something they said or did—and on the cycle goes. Ping-ponging blame back and forth never really works. Both partners need to have a sense of accountability—to validate each other's experiences and recognize what they can do differently next time.
"Blame shifting is an unhelpful strategy for resolving conflict," says Lev. "You must ask yourself, do you want to resolve the issue or find who is at fault for the issues? Because you can't do both. Resolving a conflict means letting go of who is at fault and taking it as a fact that both people must take responsibility for finding solutions. Who is at fault is irrelevant."
Arguing with each other's feelings
"Another example of a toxic thing to do in a fight is to tell the other person how they're feeling or not take their emotions at face value," says Lev.
For example, if your partner tells you they feel sad and you keep insisting that they're angry instead, that's problematic. Lev notes that this implies you know your partner's own emotions better than they do—which of course, isn't true.
Another example is if your partner shares that something hurt their feelings, and you claim it didn't or shouldn't have. "Feelings and needs can never be argued with," adds Lev.
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