Do Fights Help A Relationship?

One writer wonders whether a little love spat now and then could actually be a good thing.

By Andy Cowan

ooking over my past relationships that haven’t gone the distance (sadly, all of them), I’m struck by the realization that each seems to have shared one trait in common: We never fought. Until the very end. When it was too late, and so out of character, compared to the sea of tranquility that had seemingly kept us afloat beforehand.

Can spats serve a purpose?
But like the corrections in the stock market, maybe it’s healthy to experience periodic mini-meltdowns
Why does her opinion of the cold always have to be the truth?
to forestall the major ones in a relationship. I started to wonder: Instead of trying so hard to be agreeable, should I have kept it more real? Should I have been less agreeable at the risk of creating some tension? I’d been dating someone for a month and all seemed to be going well, when it occurred to me that maybe I needed to provoke a fight. I’d always carefully avoided conflict in relationships, but suddenly I was excited about transforming into my own Don King.

In helping my present relationship go the distance, my challenge was trying to provoke a bout that didn’t end with a breakup — say, a one- or two-rounder. How could I “knock her down” gently enough so that she could get back up and “knock me down” gently enough? Following this punch-counterpunch, I figured I would, in effect, just lie there, “throwing the fight.” Then, like two sweaty pugilists at match’s end, we’d hug and let bygones be bygones. She’d win, but we’d both really win, because I’d have helped diffuse tiny mutual hidden resentments before they’d mushroomed into deal-breakers.

That, at least, was the theory.

How I started sparring
OK, I thought, so what was ever so slightly sticking in my craw? The cold truth? Nothing. Wait. The cold truth. I was onto something. Why does her opinion of the cold always have to be the truth? Whether it’s my car or the apartment I’ve managed to live goose-bump-free in all these years, according to her, “It’s cold in here.” But it’s not where we are; it’s her. She’s cold!

This was good. I was getting miffed. Maybe my thermostat doesn’t need adjusting. Maybe you need a little adjusting, Missy. Now I was getting too miffed. Deep breath. I was ready for her. To save our relationship, not to mention the whiteout I’d need to dab over the name of another future ex on my auto-dialer, I was about to risk looking like a jerk. All towards the selfless goal of making my girlfriend slightly mad enough to secrete her relationship toxins.

I took her back to my place and waited for things to hit the fan — my trusty
“I didn’t know how to say it without sounding rude.”
accomplice literally and dutifully whirring in her direction.

“It’s cold in here,” she said the second she saw the fan. Ding! The round one bell went off in my head.

“Not necessarily,” I countered. Nice jab. The crowd in my head was cheering.

“Why is the fan on?” she prodded.

I kept on my toes and delivered a sudden “Why wouldn’t it be?” Silence. Had I grazed her? Apparently not. She returned with a calm retort: “It’s cold in here.” I had to shake up this fight before the crowd in my head began heading for their cars. I sensed my opening. I tossed her a quick, “Maybe it’s cold,” pointed at her featherweight frame and laid my figurative glove on her with full force, “in there.” That’s it. Whatever she could muster in return, I was ready to take a dive and end this thing. And then… she shivered. And asked for a sweater. Below the belt! Where’s a ref when you need one? The jacket I draped over her could have included an embroidered “Champ.” Maybe I could train for a rematch.

She stages a comeback…
The rematch occurred the next day, after I picked up the phone in work mode, and she remarked, with a hint of disdain, “You sound busy.” I was. At first, I reverted to my old ways — I went overboard trying to sound unbusy enough to put her first. But our extended conversation was about to make me even busier in making up for lost time after I hung up. That’s when I applied my hard-fought lesson about keeping it real and admitted, “Actually, I am kind of busy.” Ding!

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” Nice return.

“I didn’t know how to say it without sounding rude.” Decent block.

“Evidently,” she noted, with a touch of sarcasm.

And then… she apologized for making a big deal out of nothing. In effect, she was throwing the “fight.” Embroidered jacket, your new champion awaits!

As for Mr. Whatever You Say, Dear, he’s retired (if not undefeated). Now that my partner has had a few tangles with the new less-than-subservient me, maybe she won’t be as surprised the next time he enters the ring. Call it the good fight that keeps things from getting really chilly.

Scoring the match
By our next date, the vibe between us actually felt warmer. When a bond becomes strong enough to withstand the expression of honest feelings, it can help make the fight to respect those feelings worth winning. That’s one added punch that won’t hurt any relationship.

Based in Los Angeles, Andy Cowan is a writer, producer and performer whose credits include Cheers, Seinfeld and 3rd Rock From the Sun.
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