When you’re in a relationship, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to fight with your partner at some point—that’s just life. But when you find yourself bickering more than usual, it’s natural to wonder, “How much fighting is too much?” and “Are we totally screwed?”
Before you freak out and think your relationship is doomed because you had two fights last week, know this: it’s completely normal to have arguments and disagreements with your partner, says Joseph Cilona, Psy.D., a Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist. “There is no one correct formula when it comes to frequency of conflict, and there is no one correct way to navigate conflict that’s right for all couples,” he says.
Translation: Some couples argue more than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re doomed.
The occasional argument is actually a good thing, says Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?. “Fighting means you care about the relationship,” she says. “When fighting goes away completely, sometimes one or both people have checked out.”
To figure out if your fights are healthy (or if they’re raising red flags in your relationship) ask yourself these questions.
1. Do you fight fair?
Rather than tallying up all of your arguments, pay more attention to how you fight. If you can argue in a respectful way—by using phrases like “I feel really angry” or “I feel like I’m not being heard” and avoiding character assaults—you’re in a good place, Durvasula says. But if your arguments often devolve into personal attacks (think: name-calling, criticizing the core of who someone is or how they look), it’s not healthy for your relationship. “Don’t let arguments scare you,” Durvasula says. “Just pay attention to the quality of them.”
2. Do you finish your fights?
How well you and your partner make up is also important. Are you able to resolve fights or do you have lingering issues that you shelve each time to keep the peace? “Couples who are able to go through conflict into harmony end up having productive fights, which leads to greater intimacy,” says David Klow, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Chicago. If you’re constantly rehashing old arguments (healthy arguments focus on the current issue, Cilona says), fighting over the same things over and over with no resolution or compromise, or feeling upset about the fact that you’re fighting all the time, that can be problematic.
3. Do you ever feel threatened?
If a fight with your partner has ever made you feel physically, emotionally, or psychologically unsafe, that’s a major red flag, according to the experts. Fighting is healthy only as long as it stays fair and safe. If you find that you’re arguing a lot, it’s bothering you, and the two of you can’t seem to get it right, it may be time to see a professional for help. “Often a clean pair of eyes can help you see where your communication patterns are going wrong,” Durvasula says. And if you feel like things have crossed a line, talk to a therapist or someone you trust ASAP. “If even one member of a couple has feelings of upset, dissatisfaction, discomfort, fear, or any other significant negative feelings related to the nature, frequency, or intensity of the conflict itself, it’s something that should be addressed,” Cilona says.