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Our First Fight: How Conflict Makes - or breaks - a Relationship
by Janet Jacobsen

Into each relationship, a bit of disagreement must fall. Are fights in relationships a good sign?

But some disagreements are big & sooner or later every romantic couple has their "first big fight."

Communication researchers studied the first big fight (FBF) among dating couples in their late teens to early thirties, looking at conditions that led up to the fight, the results of the fight, & the differences between couples who "survived" the conflict & those who broke up as a result.

Causing the first fight

The researchers discovered four factors at work in a dating couple's first big fight.

Early in dating relationships, couples tend to avoid conflict.

This sometimes leads to the expectation that things will always go smoothly.

Eventually uncertainties build up, particularly uncertainty about each other's commitment to the relationship.

The study found that commitment-related differences were an important trigger for conflict in dating relationships.

Jealousy played a key role too, often in ways related to differences over commitment.

Another factor was violations of the expectations that each person had about the relationship.

This might result from changes in circumstances, such as a change of schedule, job, or residence, which forced a change in the previous patterns of the relationship.

Finally, personality and background differences play an important role in a couple's first big fight.

For instance, one partner likes to go out regularly to raucous events with lots of people, while the other partner prefers quiet, intimate, less chaotic surroundings.

Over time, the fundamental differences become insurmountable.

Effects of the fight

The first fighting in relationship has three major effects on a relationship, researchers found.

The conflict leads to a clarification of feelings between the partners - about each other and about the relationship.

It also forces the partners to be more aware of their interdependence, to see themselves not only as individuals but also as a couple.

Finally, the FBF is a "memorable and unique event" in any relationship, which can lay a foundation for how future conflicts will be handled, both in terms of strategies for handling differences, and in terms of the subjects the couple will have differences about.

The beginning or the end?

The first big fight was traumatic for all couples.

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