IS ARGUING HEALTHY FOR A RELATIONSHIP?
From time to time you meet that one couple: “Oh we NEVER fight…” They’re so lovey-dovey that they kind of make you want to kick their teeth in. They just seem PERFECT. If only you could be in a relationship like that.
Well, their relationship may not be as “healthy” as it appears. According to Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up, “arguing can actually be a sign that your relationship is strong and passionate, and that you are comfortable enough to express negative feelings without fear of losing each other in the process…”
So, how do you trust in your relationship enough to recognize what you have is bigger than what you are arguing about?
The secret to keeping your relationship strong, healthy and passionate is being able to argue “safely.” Of course you and your partner will disagree at times, but developing these skills are absolutely necessary:
Everyone needs to be able to complain from time to time. No one wants to get stuck with doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom all the time. However, criticism and contempt must be eliminated from your communication at all times. This is not easy when you are in the heat of an argument, but pay attention to your words. It sounds corny, but speak your partner the way you would like to be spoken to. Criticism is personal and often includes an “always” or “never” statement. Contempt adds an insult. For example, “You never help out around the house. You’re such a slacker.” If you do slip up and criticize your partner, apologize right away and do not try to justify your contemptuous remark.
KEEP IT TO ONE SUBJECT PER ARGUMENT:
“I think a lot of fights escalate because people don’t talk things through. Then everything sits inside of you and grows and festers. That’s when those really wonderful fights happen, where you fight about fourteen things…”
—Elizabeth, married 3 years—
The bottom line? If you’re arguing about the dishes, keep it to the dishes. Argue about other issues later. And argue about issues one at a time.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING:
If your partner is struggling or has had a hard day, delay bringing issues up until they are settled. You must value your relationship more than one single issue. If there never seems to be a good time to bring up an issue…well, then you have much bigger issues to address…
RECOGNIZING THAT NOT ALL ISSUES CAN BE RESOLVED:
It can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that not all issues between you and your partner are resolvable. Recognizing this and respecting this fact is extremely important in a healthy relationship. Holding onto a false hope of resolution may cause more harm than good.
There are really only two ways to deal with issues that seem un-resolvable.
1. You and your partner can come to terms with and accept the fact that you disagree on certain issues. If you are able to do this and not resent your partner at all, kudos to you!
2. There is also help available should you choose to go that route. Many of the couples I interviewed in “Me+You” spoke about the benefits of couples therapy:
“There were times in our relationship where we weren’t communicating with each other, and that leads to really big problems. If you can’t talk about money or other things going on in your relationship that aren’t quite right, that can be big trouble. If you don’t get help; a mediator or somebody outside of the relationship to help you stay on track, that is what leads to a lot of people splitting up.”
—Paul, married 26 years—
Sometimes getting an unbiased opinion can help you see things more clearly. Being able to see eye to eye on issues thought to be un-resolvable is key in a good, solid relationship.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you feel you have “healthy” arguments with your partner? How about with your friends and family? Do you try to avoid arguments and confrontation altogether? If so, why?