Couple quarrels: Fighting for good?

Fights help keep the fire alive in a marriage. But do they really help fan the fire or put it out?

Couple quarrelingWhat’s a marriage without some firecrackers, ‘you said-I said’ and occasional outbreaks? No two people can exist in the same space without differences of opinion. In fact, many people believe that fights help the marriage grow. It all depends on how severe the fights are and how they are resolved. Let us discuss healthy and unhealthy responses to confrontations in a marriage.

The adrenalin rush

Rohit and Manisha was a young, good-looking jet-set couple. Rohit was a successful businessperson while Manisha ran her own boutique. They were both party animals. They would drink and get into arguments, based on unresolved issues between them. The arguments would escalate into a conflict with threats and put-downs. When the screaming match reached a crescendo, they would tear each other’s clothes and end in aggressive sex like two animals.

This couple had issues with each other, which were pushed under the carpet to maintain the marriage. Neither raised sensitive issues when sober, and in a drunken state, the issues came up and ended without being resolved. The argument brought an adrenalin rush that triggered the ‘fight/flight’ response, which lead to physical stress that needed physical expression. Sex was used to ‘work out’ this adrenalin surge. It simply served as a stress-buster. The sex would settle the physical ‘fight’ response, and the exhausted couple would sleep, only to wake up resentful, with the issues still unresolved.

They were caught up in a pattern of sober but resentful silence, drunken abuse, stress-busting sex, and silence again. Since there was no closure to the problems all matters became dormant volcanoes, waiting to erupt any time.

The rape

There are times when couples actually engage in a physical fistfight with a lot of pushing and pulling. The physical touching at some point becomes forceful sexual touching, which can even end up in forceful sex. Besides, issues remaining unaddressed, there is also a possibility of the man—if he is the dominant one—forcing himself on the woman, even when she is unwilling. She might have to give in passively, but will feel ‘raped’, ‘powerless’, and even more resentful in the marriage.

The house of Jitendra and Diksha was a battle zone, where toxic verbal exchanges and physical shoving were an everyday affair. Diksha was completely averse to intimacy because the constant put-downs and shoving left her distraught and disinterested. Jitendra, on the other hand, spewed venom, hit out at Diksha, and when she hit back, held her down and raped her. She was emotionally drained, demoralised, detached, and distant. He was dominating, dogmatic, demanding.

The constant fighting did far from energising their marriage. It drained away every ounce of energy from it. The relationship died a slow, painful death.

The power game

If the woman is the dominating one in the marriage and if the conflict because of her intimidation ends in a scuffle, physical touching and sex, the encounters give her a sense of ‘power’. She behaves as if the man is putty in her hands, and the man feels angry with himself and with her, for feeling so powerless in sex.

Such encounters end up being nothing but a power game. In it one continues to feel powerful with no repentance for bringing the other to his/her knees and the other keeps feeling powerless and angry. This game is not healthy for a marriage.

A resentful and powerless woman refuses to co-operate in sex, and if the man is completely uncaring and reckless, she is repeatedly raped, physically and emotionally. On the other hand, a resentful and powerless man gradually starts withholding sex from his wife. Not only does he resent her intimidating demeanour, but also hates feeling used sexually and giving her a sense of one-up-man-ship in the bargain. Such men invariably end up resorting to self-gratification for their sexual release, while they continue withholding sex from the wife.

Sandip and Arundhati came to us on Arundhati’s insistence. She blamed Sandip for the lack of intimacy between them. She came across as a very dominating and intimidating woman, and made some scathing remarks about Sandip’s manhood. This was diagnostic of the problem, which Sandip later confirmed. He was at the receiving end of her endless criticisms and demands, and there was a high level of conflict in their marriage. He felt humiliated by what she said and further humiliated after he give in to her sexual overtures. He did not feel a sense of emotional bond with her. He started withholding sex as a means of getting back at her. The more they fought, the more he withdrew, to teach her a lesson. Emotional frustration grew in him and physical frustration grew in her, and the marriage was on the rocks.

The positive quarrels

We have seen how fights fail to energise marriages. In these cases, they actually increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of the conflict, and breed ever-increasing resentment.

However, in some cases, differences of opinions help both partners grow, feel connected with each other, and even feel more empathetic towards each other.

Such fights, of course do energise the marriage.

So, what is different about such growth-oriented confrontations? The difference is in the attitude. Even though an argument begins with both vociferously voicing and defending their views, there is an undercurrent of deep care and commitment to the relationship. In such cases, each firmly believes that the relationship is a mirror for his or her growth.

Therefore, though the arguments begin like a war, they end with both putting out and accepting an olive branch. Moving through assertive words and tears of hurt, to tears of apology and words of realisations and growth, such couples invariably feel grateful and closer to each other at the end of a confrontation. They both grow in some way because of the mirroring in the relationship. Such soft feelings of emotional intimacy even touch the quality of their lovemaking, which in such cases is an extension and expression of the gratitude, connectedness and intimacy.

Vasundhara and Jayesh had a marriage, which was a spiritual partnership. The two, while fulfilling the relationship needs of each other, wanted to grow with each other in the relationship, and become better persons. They were both articulate, and effectively communicated their views to each other. They debated their differences and their arguments sometimes turned heated. Nevertheless, they were committed to listen caringly to each other’s views. This made all the difference. It was never a battle of ‘I’ versus ‘You’ between them, but a battle of ‘I’ versus ‘We’. Both cared enough about the ‘We’, so they gave themselves and the other, the freedom and the respect to communicate and demonstrated the patience and humility required to listen to the other. There would be resolution, settlement and delightful reunion.

When fights attack the personal worth of the couple and if the conflict kills the spirit of one or both the partners, such fights kill the relationship too.

But if both can see fights as an opportunity for personal growth, and if both have the skills to make it end in a win-win scenario, the fights definitely energise and strengthen the marriage.

Happy couples, flu-free couples

Research suggests happily married individuals are more likely to fight off flu effectively. Conversely, those who were recently bereaved or divorced were found to have a higher chance of getting affected by the virus. A team from the University of Birmingham found that stressful life events had an effect on the immune response to flu. The response is an indicator of the body’s capacity to fight the virus. The Birmingham researchers examined levels of antibodies, produced by the body to combat disease in the blood. A high level of antibodies in the body means that our immune system is better prepared to fight infections. The level of antibodies in individuals who reported to be happily married was much higher than those who were unhappy in matrimony.

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


  1. Wow!!! That’s really amazing. That was a really true amazing couple. For I tend to admire that part where they ended up in still granting each other sexual intercourse in spite of their quarrels.

  2. Truly insightful, truly touching. It shows an understanding of relationships from within, rather than pontificating on them from the outside.

    Just one question – do Vasundhara and Jayesh really exist on this planet 🙂

  3. Loved this one on couple quarrels. Very insightful and much different from what we read routinely in relationship columns and features?
    Liked the one on Systemic change by same authors.
    Where do you get such writers?!?!?


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