How do healthy relationships usually end?

Disagreements are normal and even necessary for a happy relationship. However, one should know how disputes are settled in such a way that they do not degenerate into a permanent conflict. Arguing is part of life in order to avoid damage, but it is better to stick to the rules. So an argument can be a constructive way to solve a problem.

People have different needs and views, which is part of the appeal of a relationship. Inevitably, however, these differences sometimes collide, and this cannot always be resolved in a harmonious compromise.

Having an argument is very normal, to some extent inevitable and necessary. Anger, anger, and frustrations must be able to express themselves. Cleansing thunderstorms can sometimes be a blessing and things spoken in anger can be the basis for dealing with conflicts.

The few credible studies that shed light on the reasons for good health into old age all produced a uniform result on one point: People with self-confidence who can articulate and enforce their needs clearly live longer and stay healthy longer. To do this, a certain amount of arrogance is inevitable. This is not a plea for unlimited selfishness. Arguing also includes getting to know and accepting the other side's point of view - and then combining this with your own wishes and ideas into a successful compromise. Where that succeeds, the brief commotion - even if it turns out to be violent - is definitely worth it.

Continuous war makes you sick

Constant bickering stresses everyone involved and has a negative effect on body and soul.

Similar to illness, an acute argument can mean a brief crisis, but then lead to a strengthening. Similar to diseases, however, conflicts can also become chronic - and then have equally fatal consequences. There are now a number of studies from the relatively young research area of ​​neuroimmunology (the science that deals with the effects of the psyche on the immune system) that show that unproductive permanent conflicts leave traces that are similarly strong so far only in people with serious war trauma were known.

The best way to measure the effects of Streit on the immune system is through cortisol levels. Cortisol is something like the bellwether of the stress hormones. It is normally released more frequently when excited, but then gives the all-clear again and acts as a brake for other stress hormones such as adrenaline or noradrenaline. For a long time, researchers assumed that the cortisol level would rise as a result of quarreling. However, when investigating couples in constant conflict in the laboratory, it turned out that the opposite is the case. To the amazement of the researchers, it was found in couples who had argued over and over again about the same things for a long time - even if these were seemingly harmless long-running hits like "Don't drive so fast" or "Put your stuff away" - that the cortisol level did not rise , but stayed the same or even decreased. Due to the defective cortisol reaction, however, its function as a stress brake was also lost, which means that couples who constantly quarrel constantly suffer from “cold anger”, an oppressive chronic feeling of stress.

Similar changes had been observed by science before: in American Vietnam veterans. Many soldiers never came to terms with their war experiences. Long-gone horror scenes haunted her in nightmares. They lost their civil professions and became chronically ill. The researchers also found unusually low cortisol levels in these ex-soldiers and gave the syndrome the name “post-traumatic stress disorder”. Traumatic war experiences have a physical impact similar to everyday guerrilla warfare in marriage or at work.

If you want to do your relationship and your health equally a service, you would do well to put an end to the constant conflicts and friction. Why this is so difficult is because in many cases it is not about the socks lying around, the late coming home from the office, the apparently unnecessary shopping or the question of how to deal with the children's schoolwork.

The shadows of the past

In many cases, other, deeply hidden issues lie behind the everyday friction. As long as these are not discovered and addressed, any attempt to resolve the alleged conflicts is doomed to failure from the outset.

Relationship researchers have found that even happy and stable couples usually have long-running hits that they cannot agree on. Regardless of whether these are fundamental questions of life together or minor inadequacies of the partner, such couples manage to integrate the opposites into their everyday life with wit and irony.

However, where even small things lead to rougher disputes, there are usually injuries that have not been dealt with. And they don't even have to have come about in the current partnership. Therapists know that even experiences from earliest childhood, those with parents, siblings, but also previous partners in life influence any further relationship.

Recognizing these patterns is not always easy and often only possible with professional help.

Learn to argue

There is no magic formula for arguing. But listening to the other, admitting injuries, asking for forgiveness and finally burying the hatchet you can train.

There is a variety of counseling literature on how to argue properly. But in truth, arguing is a highly individual matter. Some yell around in anger, throw gross things at each other and shortly afterwards they can laugh together again in intimate togetherness about the situation. Others wage a quiet fight, with carefully considered words, which can hurt no less than an uncontrolled canon of abuse, and grumble days later.

As correct as the good advice is, for example, that “I feel that way” messages are more conducive to the discussion atmosphere than blanket accusations with “always” or “never”, it is so difficult to consider in a dispute. Anyone who can keep anger and anger under control does not argue, but negotiates.

Even if well-meaning advice is of little use in the moment of anger, it can be helpful if couples - calmly - take a thorough look at their dispute patterns. The American relationship researcher John M. Gottman thoroughly analyzed the arguments, which in many cases were almost ritual, and followed the relationship history of the couples he studied over years and decades.

In those who ultimately failed to resolve their conflicts and broke up, recurring destructive patterns were found:

A rough start

In truth, it can be determined at the beginning of a dispute whether the discussion (and ultimately the marriage) will go well. Anyone who starts negatively and accusingly shouldn't be surprised if in the end the house blessing hangs wrong, but the anger brought no progress.

Now it is in the nature of things that an argument cannot begin with hymns of praise for the other. But it makes a huge difference whether someone criticizes or makes a specific complaint. “I was annoyed that you came home from the office so late yesterday. We agreed that you would take care of our son's schoolwork ”- that's a complaint. She gets to the heart of what one thinks is the other's wrongdoing, and nothing more. “You always let me down. You are never there when you are needed. Your work is more important to you than we are ”- this is criticism that does not question a specific behavior, but rather the whole person and their character.

Anyone who notices that the discussion started with a rough start would do well to shift down a gear. It often helps to get out of the room, take a few deep breaths, and then start over.


An argument is the clearest way of showing whether a couple still has what constitutes the cornerstone of a relationship: mutual respect for one another. Sarcasm, cynicism, and derogatory humor are always signs of contempt, long-simmering conflicts, unresolved problems, and lingering frustration.

Anyone who argues about money with their wife for the first time will hardly do so in a contemptuous tone. He will say: “I think it would have been better if you had paid the outstanding installer bill instead of buying new shoes.” The tenth time, the discussion will probably start more coarsely: “You are just throwing our money around. "

The further course is foreseeable. “Of course, I could run barefoot too. But I am embarrassed when all of my friends can see that all of our money is flowing into your ailing company. "

The sarcastic reply could be, “I know you deserved better. A prince, a castle. You should look for it. "And the tone with which the last sentence was pronounced clearly signals:" I wish you the best of luck with the way you look. "

Couples usually know each other very well and therefore also know where the other's uncertainties lie and how they can meet them. It is tempting to reach into this arsenal instead of facing a specific reproach. Anyone who attacks the other person personally, makes him contemptuous and exposes him, may verbally prevail in the current dispute. But where is the jury that congratulates? The winner will only prolong the argument and create so much frustration in the other that the next argument will certainly be even rougher.

Wherever contempt shapes the discussion, the alarm bells should always ring. Nothing shows more clearly that couples are at the beginning of the end of their relationship. Anyone who does not manage to initiate a radical change of course and does not start to deal with long-simmering conflicts - with professional help if necessary - can just as easily pack their bags right away.

Justification as a counterattack

Whoever is attacked defends himself. If you are really only trying to explain your own behavior, that is not a problem. "I am sorry. I just couldn't resist these shoes at the moment. That was careless and I only remembered the installer bill hours later, ”explains a specific action. “I just needed these shoes. You are never there. So I have to get my little joys elsewhere, ”says the other: The problem is not mine, it's yours.

This is the best way not to solve a problem. One justification requires the next and thus the next counter-attack. This, too, is a sign that behind a seemingly insignificant incident there is a heap of unsolved problems.


Rough criticism, contempt, justification and counter-justification - nobody can endure that in the long run. The standard reaction: someone masons, lets the criticism bounce off seemingly unmoved, hides behind the newspaper or leaves the room.

What seems like ignorance to others is in truth often nothing more than a protective mechanism. Studies explain why men tend to withdraw faster and more often behind the screen of apparent indifference. It is a biological fact that men are less able to deal with stress than women. This made sense in the distant past: every breastfeeding mother can confirm that breastfeeding is easier the more relaxed she is. Natural selection will therefore have favored women who were able to relax more quickly and easily.

For men, however, the willingness to be constantly alert and defensive was the central ability to survive. While women can calm down and relax more quickly after an alarming signal, men’s blood pressure stays elevated longer. Men experience marital conflicts more massive and threatening than women. This means that they are less fond of addressing sensitive topics than women and, when they are asked about them, prefer to evade and take refuge behind a wall. A fatal vicious circle is programmed. Any unresolved conflict will result in frustration rising, accusations raised, and bricked up even earlier.

Ignore rescue attempts

In every argument there are moments when one of them offers a truce and gives in. That can be a spontaneous smile or the sentence: "Let's take a break, I want to calm down first." A spontaneous touch can lead to the end of an argument as well as a cheekily stuck out tongue or even an irritated "Hey, stop it, yelling at me. "

Gottman's Krach studies have shown that even couples who encounter one another with criticism and contempt in the early stages of an argument still have a significantly better chance of saving their conflicts and thus their marriage if they are able to recognize such attempts to save them and accept. Six years later, 84 percent of couples who fought destructively but ultimately gave in at the first sign of forgiveness from the other were still living in a stable and happy marriage. Couples, where such offers did not come or the rescue attempts were ignored, separated in nine out of ten cases.

Bring about reconciliation

Even with the best will of both partners, it is inevitable that injuries will occur in the course of a married life. And these injuries leave their mark. Every little disappointment, every meanness, every devaluation leaves something behind. Left untreated, this can kill even the most intense emotions over the years.

Where couples deal with their problems - alone or in therapy - they almost always discover that behind the emotional and sexual lulls there was a multitude of mutual injuries that were swallowed instead of openly addressing them and getting rid of them again. In order for injuries to be cared for carefully and the wounds to be cared for in such a way that as few scars as possible remain, both sides must always be ready.

Admit the hurt

Anyone who hides their negative feelings, admonishes themselves not to be a mimosa, or follows the motto “don't even ignore”, deprives the other person of the chance to make amends for the injury from the outset.

Better than being depressed and offended or pretending that nothing happened is to tell the other person clearly that you are angry and that makes you feel hurt.

Acknowledge the violation

Very often a reconciliation fails because one partner insists that he did not want to hurt the other at all. “That's not how I meant it!” This sentence prevents reconciliation guaranteed - regardless of whether it is true or not. It is important to recognize that what counts is not what one wanted to express, but what has arrived at the other.

Ask for forgiveness

"I am sorry. Please excuse me. ”These words usually just do not want to come out of the lips. Understandable, because they mean an admission of guilt and a bit of weakness, because you are telling the other that you need to be forgiven. But it doesn't work without these magic words. And whoever pronounces them will usually find that they suddenly dispel the tension in the other. Anyone who has ever been there could also ask: "Is there something I can use to make up for it?"

Pack up the weapons

Injuries hurt. But they also make you powerful. Anyone who has made it clear to the other that what they did was hurtful can carry this knowledge and their own moral superiority like a weapon in front of them and unpack them again at the next opportunity. Anyone who holds the entire register of sins in front of the other with every dispute will hardly encourage the willingness to admit mistakes.

The worst refusal leads to the sentence: “I will never forgive you!” Anyone who ultimately rejects the request for indulgence should always realize that this sentence can only be found in one place in a relationship: namely at the end.

Negotiate after the argument

Pragmatic relationship researchers believe that what comes or does not come after the argument and reconciliation is more important for the relationship than the argument itself. Everyone has experienced the classic process: first the great excitement, then pouting, then steering one and offers a conciliatory gesture - and behind that everything stays the same.

It may be tempting to enjoy nothing but reconciliation after the emotional excitement. But in the end it is unproductive and dangerous.A dispute should always be an occasion to think a little later, when the clouds of smoke have cleared, about what exactly led to the dispute. Regardless of whether it was actually "just" a wrong word or a loveless act or in truth something completely different - in any case, this problem must be clarified. If you fail to do this, you have already programmed the next dispute and run the risk of a one-off problem developing into a permanent crisis.

Where a dispute is followed by negotiations, both sides are called upon to be tolerant. Not every conflict can be resolved in a compromise, sometimes the simple fact that someone has to lose. That is easier to bear when you can be sure that the other will have to give in the next time - and even easier if he gave in the last time. Anyone who always only pushes through their view of things will hardly create a climate in which it is possible to live well and healthily.

Misunderstandings without words

Nobody can read minds. People who care about their partnership would do well to call things by their names.

The extent to which what one does or says and what affects the other differ has been studied many times. An impressive example was provided by the scientist Margaret Mead, who investigated a strange phenomenon as early as the 1940s. She wanted to find out why so many relationships between American soldiers stationed in England during World War II and English women failed in the early stages. In doing so, she discovered some typical patterns. The Americans - back then still free from the constraints of the political correctness practiced today - often kissed goodbye to their conquests after the first meeting. There were two reaction patterns among the English women. For some, the kiss was the beginning of the end and they said goodbye indignantly, never to be seen again. The others immediately invited the GIs to their home and left no doubt that this was not an invitation to tea. That, in turn, was going too fast for most men and they regularly fled.

The phenomenon was known for a long time, but could hardly be explained. Until Mead found out that the kiss meant completely different things to Americans and Englishmen. For the young soldiers it was a friendly gesture, a light touch between people who were just about to get closer. For the English girls, however, it was already a very intimate gesture to which they responded either with outraged rejection or with a consequent invitation to bed. Expressed in numbers: on a thirty-part sequence of steps - from the first eye contact to the first act of love - the kiss was in 5th place for the men, but at level 25 for the young women.

The conclusion of the communication researchers: Because hardly a word was ever lost about the different meanings of these - and other - gestures, many of these relationships had to fail right from the start.

Frustration and anger without any quarrel

Anyone who systematically examines their everyday marital life will find numerous examples of this type. The dozen of words, gestures, reactions and non-reactions that are well-intentioned or meaningless to one person cause confusion, anger, anger, incomprehension and frustration in the other. This runs across all areas of life: He leaves his socks lying around without realizing how annoying she finds it. She allows the child to do something without knowing that she is thereby subverting his or her parenting concept. He is absent-minded when her parents come to dinner without realizing how important this meeting was to her.

This is usually not a big problem at the beginning of a relationship. You enjoy the community and don't want to burden the day with such little things. The small irritations are usually quickly forgotten when the next attention, the next token of love comes immediately afterwards.

Over the years, however, the small annoyances can accumulate into a considerable potential for frustration. This can only be broken through with radical openness. Anyone who tells the other what triggers their doing or not doing will create understanding and soon notice that attention is increasing. And whoever asks at the same time what significance the action has for the partner, will learn to react more calmly to one or the other "malice".

You can't start early enough. At the beginning of a relationship, it is easiest to make minor corrections. Never again is the willingness to forego one or the other habit or quirk for the sake of the other and to overcome some inadequacies so great. Addressing the first pair of socks lying around is no big deal. But where people wait for years, a mountain of frustration piles up over hundreds of couples - until one day the thread of patience breaks. Then the pent-up anger discharges with force - and because the valve is already open, a dozen other allegations and accusations come out with it.

The "culprit" can only be overwhelmed with it. “For years,” he says, “that didn't bother you, and now suddenly such a small thing is supposed to be a huge problem.” There could only be something else behind it.

It is easier to call things by their name and pay attention to the core of your message. If you want to tell the other that something is bothering you, you don't have to do it reproachfully and with a nagging undertone. Anyone who assumes that the other person did not want to harm them, not even thoughtless because they have never heard their own thoughts on the subject, will find the right tone of voice all by themselves.

Editor: Christian Skalnik (journalist)
Update: November 12th, 2015, Elisabeth Tschachler (journalist)
Medical review: Univ. Doz. DDr. med. Josef Finsterer (neurology), Dr. med. Thomas Sycha (Pharmacology)

This information cannot replace a visit to the doctor, but can help you to prepare for the discussion with the doctor. A diagnosis and the individually correct treatment can only be determined in a personal conversation between doctor and patient.

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