Disagree? Argue? Are these even things we should be doing? The answer isn’t a pat ‘yes’ or ‘no’—it depends on how you are arguing or disagreeing. Arguing in a healthy way can strengthen your marriage and deepen your relationship with your spouse.
The author of the best-selling book Crucial Conversations maintains that “couples who argue together, stay together” and “the biggest mistake couples make is avoidance” (as cited by Hill, 2018). The title of the article Want a better marriage? Learn to fight fair (Compton, 2017) gives us to understand that if we know how to fight, it can improve our marriage. Therapist and author Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., LMFT, says research shows that if couples argue more than 20% of the time, their marriage will probably not survive … but subtitles his 10 Tips to Help Avoid Ugly Arguments with “if done correctly, a fight can be a pathway to growth and problem solving”. He also says “Every couple argues. Some do it overtly by yelling at each other while others do it covertly by avoiding contact and conversation. Whatever the method, the result is the same — hurt feelings and disenchantment. But, if done correctly, arguing can be a pathway to growth and problem solving” (2012).
So, how can we learn to argue in a way that won’t damage our relationship? Here are excerpts from some of Goldsmith’s 10 tips:
- Talk about your feelings before you get angry. … it may not get to the point of becoming an argument. Sometimes things just need to be verbalized.
- Don’t avoid your anger. … Anger does not diminish love. You can be angry with those you love.
- Don’t raise your voice. It’s amazing how hurt feelings or differences can be resolved with a whisper. …Only communicating with a whisper greatly reduces the anger factor.
- Don’t bring up issues from the past … Talk about any unresolved feelings from past problems at another time.
- Create a process for resolving problems … Take five minutes to state your feelings, then a twenty-minute break to think about things. Come back for another ten minutes to discuss how to deal with the problem. … it’s okay if the problem doesn’t get solved right away.
- Of special note is his point that “Abuse is NEVER allowed. … verbal abuse, any type of violence including slamming doors, breaking plates, or hitting” (2012). Goldsmith says that if your arguments escalate to this level “you need to leave the house. If one partner ever hits another a police report needs to be made and an appointment with a therapist is mandatory” (2012).
Santi, Associate Editor at http://theeverygirl.com, puts it this way: “Yes, all couples argue. But it’s the way they argue that determines if their relationship will…be happy for a lifetime. Disagreements and, yes, even fights, don’t actually have to be emotionally distressing or negative. The happiest relationships don’t avoid or fear disagreements but use them to become closer” (2019). Santi suggests making requests, not complaints; acknowledging your partner’s point of view; taking turns talking; pausing when necessary; setting mutual rules for arguments, and remembering that it’s not you against your spouse, it’s you two against the problem! (2019).
Couples will argue—but doing it in a constructive way can have a positive outcome!
Compton, J. (2017, October 2). Want a better marriage? Learn to fight fair. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/want-better-marriage-learn-fight-fair-5-easy-steps-ncna806011
Goldsmith, B. (2012, September 10). 10 Tips to Help Avoid Ugly Arguments. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-fitness/201209/10-tips-help-avoid-ugly-arguments
Hill, A. (2018, February 13). Couples who argue together, stay together, research finds. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/13/couples-who-argue-together-stay-together-research-finds
Santi, Josie. (2019, July 2). How to Fight Healthy as a Married Couple. The Everygirl. https://theeverygirl.com/how-to-fight-healthy-as-a-married-couple/