Let's get one thing straight off the bat: everyone fights. It's how you fight that really matters. "In a marriage, it is so important to make a commitment early on that no matter how angry you get you will never hit below the belt or cross certain lines," explains psychologist Alisa Ruby Bash. "Dirty fighting is when couples lash out with so much hostility, rage and contempt that they intentionally try to wound, humiliate and viciously attack their partner. Once couples enter that realm, words can never be taken back, and they can literally destroy the most pure part of their love."
If you still can't picture what a dirty fight might look like, consider this scenario. It's your one-year anniversary dinner, and you've made reservations at the fanciest restaurant in town. You've arrived on time, ordered the champagne—and 20 minutes later, you're still waiting for your husband to show up. "In a healthy relationship, when the husband arrived, the wife may say, 'Where were you? I have been sitting here waiting for 30 minutes! I'm really upset and hurt that you would not only be late tonight, but also not even call me! I was so worried,'" describes Bash.
"In that situation, she is expressing her feelings, her concern, taking ownership for her reactions, and showing that their relationship and her husband means so much to her. In a dirty fighting scenario, the wife would scream at him in public and say something like, 'You a--hole! You scum ball! I'm sure you were having sex with your secretary, you cheating, pathetic loser!' Then she would throw her drink in his face and walk out on him. In that situation, she attacks him, brings up hurtful things from the past, never asks for his explanation, and publicly humiliates him." If that alone has convinced you to keep your bickering clean, here are eight other reasons you should avoid dirty fighting at all costs.
1. "It creates a snowball of resentment," Bash says.
2. "It destroys the intimacy of feeling totally safe to be vulnerable," she says.
3. "You can push your partner into an emotional affair," Bash says. "If your partner no longer feels safe confiding in you, they will look elsewhere for emotional support and connection. This can become the gateway for emotional affairs, and certainly other types of sexual infidelity."
4. "Partners who have been emotionally wounded will try to seek revenge or take out their anger in other ways," she says.
5. "Dirty fighting can inflict emotionally abusive wounds on the other partner, which can destroy their self-esteem, trigger mental illness, or addictions to cope with the pain," says Bash.
6. "It can turn mutual friends and family against the couple, who then can plant even more seeds of doubt against the relationship," says Bash.
7. "You will never be able to take back the words you have said, or undo it. They will haunt your relationship, and follow you forever," she says.
8. "Dirty fighting and contempt has been shown to be the number one predictor of a couple's future divorce or separation," says Bash.
Finally, "when it comes to lasting marriages, if you feel that you are fighting with the intent to hurt and destroy your partner, then you're fighting dirty, and you need to learn some communication skills before it is too late," says Bash. "Seeking couples therapy is the most important thing you can do to save your marriage."