Friday Night Fights: What They Are And How To Avoid Them
It’s Friday night and the kids just fell asleep. After a hectic work week, my wife and I should have been starting our evening with a nice dinner, a movie, or some other fun, connecting activity together. You’d think that, after five years of parenting, we’d know to get a head start on the weekend! But instead, more often than not, we would get drawn into one of those useless fights that go nowhere, accomplish nothing, and feel so frustrating yet inevitable. It was time for one of our Friday Night Fights.
Here’s my story about how we got over our Friday Night Fights. I’ll tell you about what they are and how to avoid them yourself.
What are Friday Night Fights?
“Friday Night Fights” is our code name for the fights that happen so regularly between partners that you can practically set your watch to them.
They are routine fights that happen at the same time of day most days, or on the same day of every week.
My wife coined them “Friday Night Fights” because that is when my wife and I would often have a routine, predictable fight – often over almost nothing at all.
It got to the point where, sometimes in the middle of the fight, one of us would have the presence of mind to stop. We’d turn to each other and say, “Wait, let’s calm down, this is just one of our Friday Night Fights! Can we take a deep breath and deal with this differently?”
Every couple is different
I know another couple who had their “7:37pm Fight” – every night, after the kids were in bed, is when they turned on each other and released their stress, emotions, and pent-up frustrations.
Sometimes Friday Night Fights happen after people are apart for a long time.
I know some couples who would fight when the husband returned from working in a camp two weeks of every month. I’ve also worked with couples that would fight just before a spouse left for camp work.
Some couples fight at the same time each morning. For other couples, the fights happen at the same moment each week.
Timing isn’t important, but patterns are.
The timing is not that important.
What is important to notice is that the fights are regular and happen in a routine manner. This might be at the same time each day or on the same day of the week.
They might also happen in the same context each time, either preceding or following a specific (regular) event.
Every couple is different.
What’s important is to take inventory of the regularity with which you and your spouse fight. You’ll find you can spot the similarities and identify your patterns.
Once you identify your pattern, you have taken a step towards being able to defuse these fights more quickly because you will recognize them for what they are.
Letting off steam (because stress has to go somewhere)
Once my wife and I started to see our pattern, we saw that what would seem like a really important issue to fight about was really just our way of letting of steam at the end of a busy week.
After a hard and tiring week of battling to get kids to eat, brush teeth and stop hitting each other, my wife and I would finally get the kids to sleep and meet downstairs on our red couch. We were tired; tired of packing lunches and making dinner and cleaning, of going to work, daycare, school and ballet lessons.
In our tired states, our defences and coping skills deteriorated and we were primed to release our stress – unfortunately on each other.
We might have had plans to watch a movie, hang out, cook dinner together, or whatnot, but one of us would almost always find some little thing that would spiral into a battle – it almost felt like we needed some way to let out the stress of the week before we could enjoy our weekend.
Why do they happen? (The question you shouldn’t ask)
I imagine that a lot of you are going to be asking: “Why do Friday nights happen in the first place?”
My answer to you is: “That’s the wrong question to ask, so don’t ask it!”
Yes, that’s right: the ‘why’ doesn’t matter.
As a couple therapist, one of the most important lessons I learned during my training was to never ask the question “why”.
Why we don’t ask why in the therapy business.
There are two reasons we don’t ask why in the therapy room.
The first reason is that the “why” is always changing.
Think of this for a moment: if I ask you today why you decided to commit to your partner (marriage or long-term relationship or whatever situation you’re in), you’d give me a different answer than on the day you decided to partner with them in the first place.
Even if the difference is subtle, the fact that you would give two different answers means that the ‘why’ is always changing. And if it changes, that means it’s not a universal truth – it’s not reliable.
The second reason is that asking “Why?” when it comes to our behaviours and emotions requires us to be objective.
We would need to be able to compare our emotions and behaviours to others to draw conclusions and test our assumptions.
To be valid (in other words, to draw a valid conclusion about the reason why we did or felt something), we would need to test ourselves and our partner using a specific and consistent set of variables.
Although our Friday night fight occurs regularly, that doesn’t make the circumstances of our fights consistent enough. We cannot replicate our test and control the variables of our fight.
Thus, our test (or the reason “why”) cannot be considered valid.
So, since our “why” can change, and since we can’t objectively prove our “why”, it is not a question that I dwell on in a therapy room.
Don’t waste your time asking why the Friday night fights happen. If you do, you risk chasing the “why” down a rabbit hole.
If we don’t do it in therapy, then take a lesson from me, and don’t do it at home.
“When couples fight, they’re engaging in the “protest polka” – a dance in which each partner jockeys for the best position. Unfortunately, the race to the best position can’t be won without someone losing. If you win, your partner loses. That just doesn’t sound like a win-win proposition”
How to avoid Friday Night Fights
This is always my favourite part of helping couples. I truly love seeing couples discover the tools and strategies for avoiding “the protest polka”.
My favourite supervisor from my training used to refer to all couple fights as dances – relational dances – or “protest polkas” as he liked to call them.
The fact is that all couples are going to fight. Some more than others, but there is going to be conflict or disagreement at some point along the way.
We don’t need to eliminate fighting. Fighting with our partner can be good. It helps us disconnect, blow off steam, and reconnect, all in the same moment.
Sure, we can all learn to fight better with our partner. But that’s not the point of this post. I’ll come back to that in future posts.
What is important is that we can do one simple thing to help avoid Friday Night Fights.
What can you do to avoid Friday Night Fights?
I want you to go to bed tonight and do one thing: think of one thing that you appreciate in your relationship that you would like to have happen again tomorrow.
“What the heck??” you’re probably thinking. How does thinking about what’s going well in your relationship have anything to do with your habitual fights?
I’ll wager that asking yourself, “What do I like about my relationship that I want to continue to have happen tomorrow?” is not a question you ask yourself very often.
In fact, for many people, I bet they’ve never asked that question of themselves before.
That is good. I’m glad you haven’t asked yourself that question before because, now that you have, you’re doing something different.
And when it comes to being stuck in a relationship rut of habitual fights, different is good!
The benefit of doing something different
I want you to practice being different in your relationship.
When you and your partner are doing things differently, that means you’re breaking habits. And if you’re breaking habits, then you can break away from your Friday Night Fights!
Oh, and on another note: when you start compiling the answers to your “What do I like about my relationship?” question, you’re authoring your own book about “How to build a stronger relationship that is specific to me and my partner”.
Your answers become your arsenal for improving your relationship.
Sharpen your pencils and write them down, because in the next post, I’m going to tell you how to use your answers to build a rock-solid relationship for you and your partner and eliminate the Friday night fights that are sucking the fun out of your relationship.
So, good luck writing down your answer.
I know it’ll be worth your while.
Here’s some other great resources for learning about marriage and family therapy…
If you are interested in learning more about working with a systemically-trained couple therapist, check out the American Association of Marriage and Family therapy (AAMFT) or follow this link to learn more about how a marriage and family therapist can help you. If you’re in Canada, the Canadian Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (CAMFT) can be found through this link.
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About the Author
Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time online therapist and relationship coach helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner.
Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting.
Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.