Why Do People Pick Fights In Relationships? Experts Say It’s Ineffective Communication

If you’ve ever been in a relationship, then you’ve probably had a few disagreements with an SO. The truth is that getting into fights is just part of navigating relationships. That said, if you feel like your partner is actively on the lookout for opportunities to start a conflict, then this could quickly turn into a bigger issue. So, why do people pick fights in relationships? Well, while every situation is different, constant conflict could mean that you or your partner are dealing with deeper feelings that aren’t being addressed.

"’Picking a fight’ typically starts with finding fault with and going after something a person did or said and escalating it into a fight," intimacy coach Irene Fehr tells Elite Daily. "It’s a learned behavior used as a gateway to address a past hurt or resentment, without coming out vulnerably to talk about the thing that really bothers you." We can all probably think back on a situation where a partner did something that upset us and we didn’t speak up about it directly. According to Fehr, when this happens, the residual emotions we’ve kept inside find other ways of coming out.

"Most picked fights are not about the actual subject of the fight; the subject is merely a facade that allows you to act out on the deeper ‘meta’ message that you feel frustrated, unappreciated, not important, slighted, or ignored without having to admit to feeling this way," explains Fehr. Although this might not seem like a huge problem, relying on this method of communication can become a habit. "It’s a passive-aggressive way to express how you feel, and it’s highly ineffective because the fight is never about the issue at hand, so the true source of discontent is never resolved, creating cycles of prolonged frustration and resentment," says Fehr.

Fighting all the time can be really draining and lead to a bunch of emotional baggage between you and bae. Even if the disagreements aren’t huge, if they’re escalating into fights, then it may be time to address the heart of the issue(s). If the true source of you or your partner’s discontent isn’t dealt with, then it could eventually lead to irreparable damage. "In picked fights, much of our anger comes from the things that have been left unsaid, that anger unabated will hurt your relationship by gradually reducing trust and openness between partners," says Fehr.

Fortunately, as long as these passive aggressive conflicts aren’t happening regularly, picking a fight every now and then is actually pretty normal. "[This] happens in every relationship, and you can learn to minimize your tendency to do it and learn how to repair the damage from it through vulnerable and open conversations about what’s truly bothering you and making an apology." Even though being honest and direct about the things that upset us isn’t always easy, you owe it to yourself and your partner to be transparent. This way, you can fully move past conflict instead of reliving the same frustrations over and over again.

According to Fehr, if you suspect you or your partner are chronically instigating fights, the best thing to do is to start a casual conversation about it when you’re both relaxed. "Name that you see a pattern in your relationship around picking fights, name the impact on you: ‘when we fight this way, I feel less connected with you and less trusting. And it hurts," recommends Fehr. "Express to your partner that you want to break through this pattern and understand what’s really bothering them. Ask if they’d be willing to have a more vulnerable conversation about what’s going on."

In the end, having a healthy relationship with effective communication means that both partners need to be able to fully express themselves. So, the next time you feel like unleashing your wrath on bae over the dirty dishes, it might be a good idea to analyze whether that’s the true source of your anger. And if you’re on the other side of things, starting a dialogue with your partner’s about their behavior pattern is the best way to find out what’s going on with them so you can both move forward.

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