How to Handle Fights in a Relationship: Advice & Tips

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Attached" by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do secure attachers handle fights in a relationship? Why do anxious and avoidant attachers fear conflict?

Despite the romantic myth, every relationship has fights—it’s how they handle them that sets couples apart. Secure attachers tend to grow closer after conflicts while anxious and avoidant attachers tend to handle them poorly.

Keep reading to learn how to handle fights in a relationship like a secure attacher.

Handle Fights Like a Secure Attacher

Many of us think that the best relationships don’t involve arguing or conflict, but that’s a romantic myth. Numerous studies have proved that even the most secure couples have arguments, and they often serve as opportunities for growing closer. The key is handling fights in a relationship constructively by applying the communications skills of a secure attacher. 

Conflict between partners comes in two flavors: intimacy-related disagreements and daily-life disagreements. The former are the complex relationship problems that are discussed throughout this summary. The latter are more trivial issues, like who will make dinner or take out the trash. As we’ve seen, both types of disagreements may be connected—an argument about where to go on vacation may actually be an argument about intimacy. But even when daily-life conflicts aren’t symptomatic of a much deeper conflict, it’s still helpful to have solid strategies for managing them. 

The Secure Attacher’s Playbook: How to Defuse Relationship Conflicts 

No matter your attachment style, follow these communication tips to handle daily-life conflicts and disagreements in a way that will bring you closer:

  • Show a genuine concern for the other person’s feelings. Remember that a disagreement between partners is not a zero-sum game where one person wins and the other loses. If we’re in a relationship, our happiness is dependent on our mate’s happiness—so it makes sense to tune in to what the other person wants or needs. When both partners’ feelings are validated, both parties win.
  • Keep the argument centered on the present issue—don’t get sidetracked or expand the argument to include other issues. A conflict about someone leaving the kitchen a mess shouldn’t spill into a conflict about whose family you’ll visit at Thanksgiving. Tackle one point of contention at a time.  
  • Be willing to take part in the discussion—don’t disengage or withdraw. Both partners need to be willing to approach the issue head-on until it gets resolved in a mutually agreeable way—even if it takes some arguing to get there. 
  • Openly communicate your needs and feelings. No matter how long you’ve been together with your partner, don’t expect him or her to be a mind reader. Tell them exactly what you need or want. 

Why Anxious and Avoidant Attachers Fear Conflict

When a daily life conflict rears its not-so-pretty head, anxious attachers will feel threatened. Even though it’s just an argument about whether to spend money on new car tires or a new hot tub, their fear of abandonment may kick in. They’ll think the worst: “Oh no, things aren’t perfect between us—that means we’re going to break up.” Their fear of their partner’s unavailability or their own inferiority may send them into a negative spiral—even though it’s unwarranted. 

Avoidants will take the opposite stance to conflict—they’ll shut down and try to remove themselves from the situation. They may use a strategy like criticizing their partner as a way to distance themselves from the conflict at hand. 

When anxious and avoidant attachers face disagreements, both parties must be especially vigilant about employing good communications strategies. Keep these tips in mind: 

Strategies to Employ During an Anxious-Avoidant Clash      

  1. Keep in mind that one fight rarely ends a relationship.
  2. Don’t assume you’re the reason for your partner’s terrible mood. Assumptions are always bad, but they’re even worse during conflicts. 
  3. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Express your needs and your fears so he or she doesn’t have to guess or assume. 
  4. If you aren’t sure what your partner is saying, ask questions. 
  5. Have faith that your partner really does care about your needs and is on your team. 
  6. Keep coming back to your partner’s happiness. Focus on satisfying their needs as well as yours. 
How to Handle Fights in a Relationship: Advice & Tips

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  • Why your partner behaves the way they do
  • How your attachment style affects your relationship
  • How to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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