Fighting is natural, and it’s inevitable. We fight about money, sex, how to raise kids which car or house to buy, social media, politics, etc. Whether you're fighting with your significant other, friends, coworkers, or family, a bad fight can leave you feeling unhappy and overwhelmed for days or weeks.
But why do we fight? Sure there are thousands and thousands of reasons why we have had fights and arguments. As a Holistic Psychotherapist, I am all about getting to the root cause. So let’s get to the root cause of why we fight. Most of the time we focus on the content, the story, she said this, he said that she did that, he did that….and go in circles. We attempt to get to the bottom line that will resolve the conflict. But often we are unaware of the bottom line unless we are fully conscious of our needs, values, behaviors, habits, and beliefs.
You never fight over what you think you are fighting over. As I just mentioned, it is not the content. Our biases, judgments, and beliefs get in the way of the content. For example, If I think you don't care about me, no matter what we talk about, the fact that I think you don't care will affect how I interpret what you are saying to me. Does that make sense? How we think and feel shapes the experiences and the conversations.
When we argue and fight, we fight over unmet needs which are the root causes of arguments. This comes from my own personal experience, working with clients over the past 14-15 years and from Howard Markman’s research from Harvard. Here are the root causes that we fight...
Deep down, we fight over the unmet need of- 1. Power & Control, 2. Trust & Respect, 3. Closeness & Recognition.
Power & control- In relationships power is the ability to direct the way the relationship is going or influence the other person. Control on the other hand is not about influence and can be toxic in relationships. Often people fight about their own control, being able to control their own decisions and behaviors rather than their partner coercing the choices.
Power in relationships can be speaking up and voicing your opinion, being more independent, having boundaries, and following through on your word. In good relationships, power shifts back and forth as each partner considers the needs of the other and cedes their power accordingly. But whoever wants less in the relationship has more power. Whoever wants less has more power, because the person who wants more, needs more.
And power and control are about autonomy which is a fundamental human need. We all want to have control over what we do. So allowing each person in the relationship to feel a sense of autonomy is important.
For example, Mark and Amy were having constant fights weekly. They would fight about little things that bothered each other. The fights would lead to big blow ups over who did not do the dishes or who did not take out the trash. They realized how ridiculous things were getting and how the arguments were ruining their relationship. After working with them after a few sessions, it came to light that Amy was frustrated with Mark for making the decision on which landscaper to choose and the landscaping design for their house. Amy wanted to have a say in this but never got a chance because Mark made the decision for them without asking her. This is an example of Amy wanting power in the relationship. Since she felt powerless and controlled, little things such as Mark not washing the dishes or taking out the trash turned into fights. But it was never about the dishes or trash, it was about the lack of power Amy felt in their relationship.
Trust & respect - these are very important cornerstones in relationships. The Lack of trust and respect causes a lot of fights. Trust is the foundation for any relationship. If you don't have trust it means you won't feel secure and security is a basic need we all have. Trust means you can rely on your partner, can confide in them, and feel safe with them. It’s faith that you have in someone that they will always remain loyal to you.
Without trust, a relationship will not last. There is no security and stability. Respect is just as important, Respect means that you recognize that your partner is a whole person and not just someone you want to get something from. Receiving respect from others is important because it helps us to feel safe and to express ourselves. Respect means that you accept somebody for who they are, even when they're different from you or you don't agree with them. Respect in your relationships builds feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing.
For example, Stephanie tends to run late, and not be on time. She would be late to meet her friends, for work, and dinner dates with her partner Steve. He got fed up with this behavior as he told her many times to be on time. They would get in arguments every time she was late and their dinner dates would turn into nightmares. And Stephanie would always come up with an excuse. Steve eventually did not believe any of her excuses. He felt disrespected. Her behavioral pattern showed him that his time did not matter. So the issue for them is the lack of respect and trust issues.
Listen for these cues when you hear your partner speak. Does the person say what they mean and mean what they say? Do they stand by their word? Or do you feel belittled or less than? Is your partner condescending towards you?
Trust is built slowly as we learn about our partners and they become predictable to us. and respect is earned through vulnerability and emotional intimacy. People fight when they do not feel respected or have lost trust in the other.
Closeness & Recognition- I see this a lot lately with my clients. Closeness only comes from sharing and receiving. You have to share your authentic feelings and be open to receive the other person's. When you share something personal with someone, you build a stronger connection to them and yourself.
Intimacy is the closeness between people in personal relationships. It's what builds over time as you connect with someone, grow to care about each other, and feel more and more comfortable during your time together. There are four types of intimacy: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.
Recognition in relationships gives us a sense of connection with other people. It helps us feel understood and valued. Recognition is attention and feeling significant. It's the universal feeling that another has seen you, really seen you, and understood you to the core. That person gets you, and you are left with a feeling of being significant, known, and a feeling that everything will be alright. It’s attention and love.
Receiving attention, recognition, closeness, and intimacy really bonds us in relationships. It changes everything experientially. Recognition has a regulating effect since feeling understood and seen helps us to feel secure, safe, and emotionally balanced. Intimacy also gives us a sense of being accepted, it's a magical connection that gives us a sense of purpose within that relationship.
The need for recognition, attention, closeness, and intimacy gives us the feeling that our mind is connected with another, which is why we continually seek this in our lives and experience it with another.
An example of the lack of closeness is when you are out with your spouse or partner and he or she is always on their phone. Dinners and coffee dates seem to be by yourself instead of with the person you are with. Or the lack of recognition and attention is when you get home after a long day of work and instead of sharing how your day went, you have to focus on the kids or take care of dinner, and eventually, this leads to a daily routine where your wants and needs become ignored and the focus is on the kids or the house. This is very common among couples. Eventually, the need for closeness becomes an issue as you do not feel intimate with your partner or spouse anymore, you feel distant. And when there is less and less emotional intimacy, the need for attention and recognition comes into play.
So knowing these are root causes for fights, how do you resolve this and meet your partner's needs? First off, listen to which need the person is seeking in the argument. What are they lacking and want from you and the relationship? Is it power? Trust? recognition? Asking would be a great place to start. We are not mindreaders and no one loves to decipher what someone really means when it is not fully clear in the first place. So just ask. They may not even know it themselves, but being asked gives them an opportunity to identify unmet needs that are generating negative emotions and conflict. This question also signals to your partner that you care about their well-being.
Consider your own needs too. What's missing in your relationship? Do you want trust? Intimacy? Power? Where are you struggling with and need? Then share these needs in a mutually supportive way. As you two talk, acknowledge the other person's need. Let them know you heard them so they feel seen. Then accept it. You may not agree but this is coming from their perspective, not yours. Accepting their needs is validation, which all healthy relationships need. Then respond and communicate focusing on the need, not the content. Remember, focus on the need, do not go back on what he or she said or did, just focus on the need. Because that is the root cause of the issue.
Once the person's need has been met or they feel their need will be addressed, the arguments and fights should diminish. And the same goes for you. If you feel your needs are being met, you will act differently. You will not be as guarded or triggered by small things anymore. This all comes down to our needs. We have to have our needs met in relationships, this is why we are in relationships.
So the root cause of all fights comes down to unmet needs. Again they are power and control, trust and respect, closeness and recognition. I hope you found this helpful today. If you would like some guidance on this topic, feel free to reach out.