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Use a Different Lens to See New Ways to Stop Fighting

Understanding three types of fighting can end conflict now.

Key points

  • There are proven ways to disarm the hidden triggers that cause fighting.
  • Discover how to quickly stop the escalation of a fight, and look at the real cause.
  • Use the Three Types of Fights template to defuse the anger and heal the hurts.

Relationship fights are common, and they often leave you bewildered and frustrated. We find ourselves wondering how our partners could repeatedly upset us, despite our endless efforts to communicate our needs and concerns loud and clear.

These fights go beyond surface-level problems like clothes left on the floor or arguing about political disagreements. They are rooted in way deeper needs, vulnerabilities, and emotional triggers within both partners that amplify our reactions and escalate quickly.

The problem arises when we choose to focus on the content of our arguments. This “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset leads to escalating conflicts and polarized, alienating positions. We yearn for healing within our love relationships but find ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle of wounds that never seem to heal.

However, what if we were to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look beyond the right-wrong roadblocks before we even open our mouths?

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Esther Perel along with her editor Mary Alice Miller, says there are three types of relationship fights that shed light on our emotional triggers, which are rarely about the immediate situation.

These fights reflect patterns of neglect, insecurities, and the lenses we look through to interpret our partner's actions. By understanding these deeper psychological dynamics, we can more objectively break free from repetitive patterns of conflicts and triggers and stop hurting each other.

The Three Types of Toxic Fights:

  1. Power and Control: These fights revolve around issues of struggles for power and control. Common trigger statements may include accusations: "You always undermine me in front of the kids." "You’re just like your father, I feel like I have to beg you for money.”
  2. Care and Closeness: Fights in this category stem from feeling deprived of love and closeness. Trigger statements might include: "Why can't you ever support me when I'm anxious or upset instead of making me feel worse about myself?" "Why am I always the one to reach out? You always pull away."
  3. Respect and Recognition: These fights arise from a sense of feeling disrespected and disregarded. Example statements include: "You go out with your friends without even asking me what I'm doing." "You pay more attention to your phone than to me!"

Recognizing and identifying these three dimensions and fight dynamics provides a new framework to identify the real source of conflicts and encourages more productive communication with both partners. That is if they choose to stop and refocus.

To break old harmful patterns, we must develop the skills and language to identify the underlying dynamics. By working together to understand these patterns and the unfinished business within us, we can shift our focus toward helping each other instead of attacking each other. This requires a conscious effort to dismantle deeply entrenched thought patterns and reverse them.

Here's how it works. One or both of you have to agree in advance: “Okay, when we start to feel irritated or frustrated or want to attack or shut down, let’s look at you and me and talk about what one of the three trigger issues is really going on.” Watch how fast you deescalate the blow-ups.

At first, engaging in this process may feel unnatural. However, it is important to remember that all relationships involve a dance, even when we step on each other's toes. Over time, it becomes more comfortable to express our feelings while allowing room for the other person's perspective. Creating new patterns of mutual self-awareness, affirmation, and respect is the key to improving our relational dynamics and ending those destructive fights.

While this process can be challenging, there are resources available to support us. Esther Perel, the source of The Three Types of Fights, has a collection of relationship tips and tricks, "Letters from Esther," which offers invaluable practical insights that can help in this healing journey.

Additionally, enlisting the help of a professional therapist can accelerate your progress and save you from an unnecessary and painful trial-and-error experience. The right therapist can provide the expertise and professional guidance needed to help you spot these three trigger patterns in you and your partner and show you how to stop the escalation to navigate these challenges effectively to create lasting change within your relationships. Looking through a new lens can also speed the healing of some old and very deep wounds.

Finally, by using a new lens to understand the deeper dynamics of how your relationship fights work, you can break free from those automatic, old patterns and create a more fulfilling connection with your partner. It requires a commitment to self-awareness, empathy, and active communication. Seeking the assistance of a professional therapist can provide the necessary guidance and support you need.

More from Charles H. Browning Ph.D.
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