In order to answer this question about the one thing couples do not realize when they are fighting, a little background is helpful. Science from all sorts of fields tell us that loneliness raises our blood pressure and can increase the risk of heart disease, even stroke, by double.
We are social animals, and evolution has designed us to need and desire to live with others. It is a matter of survival. Recall stories you may have heard about babies in orphanages that experience failure to thrive due to lack of any human touch or regular response to their needs. They will stop crying, and even die, due to this lack of nurturing or secure attachment.
Attachment theory, backed by research, tells us that we need others, and that we especially seek a significant other who becomes a source of comfort, a person with whom we feel our closest sense of connection. When that sense of attachment is threatened, we feel adrift, disconnected, alone.
When couples fight, often there is a typical pattern where one person is demanding and the other is withdrawing. The demander is attempting to draw the other into some kind of interaction, because even an angry one is better than nothing. The withdrawer is often left feeling inadequate and rejected, and is avoiding hurt, shutting down to stay in control.
Couples who have been in this negative dance for along time have become distracted and caught up in their own agendas. Resentment and caution sets into their daily patterns of communication, and each begins to see the other thru a predictive negative lens, so much so that they can no longer even access what they truly need emotionally. It has become deeply buried. That takes a bit of work to recover.
In a fight, emotions can run hot very quickly. Two threats can make a person feel emotional extremes rather quickly:
1) Threatening the source of one’s livelihood or job
2) Threatening one’s primary love relationship
Here we are talking about the second threat, and the answer to the question posed. When you find yourself drawn into a fight or argument with your partner, at its base, it is because you don’t feel attached or connected, and the fight is your way of getting that need met, albeit not terribly effectively. It is a lonely feeling when your partner doesn’t have your back.
If you are in demand mode, or clinging to your partner as a way to draw reassurance or comfort from them, learning how to express what you truly need in the moment is the answer.
If you are the one in withdrawal mode, try being more attuned to the idea that your demanding partner may be attempting some sort of connection with you, and resist the idea of withdrawing, for it will only increase their need to demand. Stop, softly engage, and ask what is really bothering them.
The one thing couples don’t know when they are fighting is that a sense of true connection, or attachment, is what is being sought. It is that feeling of being heard and understood that we all crave, and lies beneath the heat of conflict.