Tough luck if your nature of fighting does not fit into any of these categories.

All married couples fight. Sometimes we call it a row, sometimes a spat, sometimes a scrap. But whatever it actually is, we do engage in a not-always-polite exchange of hostilities every now and again. We tell ourselves that it is normal to fight and that everybody is doing it, but there is this sneaking suspicion that maybe we shouldn’t, and that maybe there are better ways to resolve differences of opinion than hurling juicy epithets or a handy ashtray at each other. So what’s the official word on fights?

Most good couple therapists will tell you that fights are healthy and if well utilised, even energising for a relationship. I am, of course, not suggesting that you immediately launch into a fight with your partner every time you feel the energies in the relationship are a bit low. What I am saying is, when two people engage in an honest, close, intimate, communicating relationship where they attempt to share and engage with each others’ minds, there is bound to be some friction generated.

The trick with fighting is to fight smart, not hard. In its most basic and simple form, a fight represents a temporary breakdown of love, trust, respect and intimacy between a man and a woman owing to a gap in communication, understanding or tolerance between the two. And if you look closely at a fight, you’ll realise that it’s only in the first 90 seconds or so that you fight about its immediate provocation. The next several hours (sometimes days) are devoted to fighting about the way each other fights, about who initiated it and inevitably dredging up unresolved fights from the dim and distant past. However, if one realises that fights usually happen for a few well defined reasons, then one may be able to master the art of fighting smart as opposed to fighting hard, which most of us are masters of.

“The Stress Buster Fight” is the most common type of fight and usually happens when one, or both partners, experiences a stressful life experience in a domain outside the marriage — usually at work. A nasty swipe taken at the partner seems to relieve the stress temporarily but when the equally stressed out partner retaliates, a fight ensues. However such fights are usually easily resolved provided the swiping partner is a reasonable apologizer, since there are no deeper issues involved.

“The Unfulfilled Expectations Fight” happens more during the earlier years of the relationship, although if expectations remain unfulfilled, they could manifest later as well. The underlying dynamic here is the feeling on the part of one partner that the other is insensitive to legitimate needs and expectations, matched by the other’s feeling that these expectations are unrealistic.

“The Control Fight” is something that starts early on in the relationship and continues in attenuated form throughout the relationship unless the couple makes a conscious effort to stop controlling each other. Usually control fights happen whenever we feel vulnerable or when we feel our identity is threatened or we feel controlled by our partner’s behaviour and feel the need to retaliate.

“The Umbilical Cord Fight” is probably the most intense of all fights because this involves an assessment on the part of one partner that the other is still strongly attached by the emotional umbilical cord to a parent. Until both partners reach a common understanding of the situation and make an attempt to deal with both sets of parents and both umbilical cords together as a joint venture, variations of these fights keep erupting at the most unexpected and awkward of times.

“The Mixed Signals Fight” is easier to resolve although it can be very distressing for both partners, because both feel legitimately victimised by the fight. This fight usually takes place when one partner is signalling for something specific, like say to be parented or fussed over and the other is completely oblivious to the signals. Most Mars-Venus kind of situations, where on account of gender differences, partners find it difficult to understand each others’ needs, would fall in this category.

“The Parental Pattern Fight” is the most difficult to figure out. Often we find ourselves relating to our partner the way our parents did to each other. It’s almost like we have a script inherited from our parents and we get affronted when we find that our partner doesn’t seem to follow it and what’s worse, seems to be playing out an alternative script that’s unfathomable to us. Since our parents’ marriage and communication patterns are the first that we’ve been exposed to, these often form a template around which we model our own relationships.

The trick to smart fighting lies in understanding what kind of fight one is having and trying to deal with the root cause. In the final analysis, a fight is a bit like pain. Just as pain is an indicator of some deeper pathology in your body, so too is a fight an indicator of some issue in the marriage. And like pain, fights should never be ignored, but always investigated and rooted out not with the balm of make-up sex, but by treating the cause. Without pain would we know pleasure? Without fights would we know happiness?