arguments – a help or a short cut to marital hell?

Do you think arguments are an essential part of a relationship? My husband seems to feel having arguments is okay – he even says they help. But when I try to talk things over with him it either ends in a bruising row, or he says we should just forget it and let things go.

Differing points of view are essential – if you retain your individuality you’re bound to have different views, opinions and ideas and these bring interest to a relationship. I think a good relationship is one in which each partner feels able to put forward their own feelings and hear their partner’s. But conflict happens when people can’t or won’t give space for or take on board their partner’s viewpoint and that isn’t healthy.

I don’t think it helps to let things go – it’s far better to have a healthy discussion than suppress feelings or sweep things under the carpet. But you do need to argue about the thing that really have upset you, not the issue that has made you blow up. Arguments become a negative part of a relationship when they are circular, repetitive, destructive and when you’re not listening. Most of all, when you’re actually arguing about something else. For instance, when the row is about leaving the lid off the toothpaste but the real conflict is about the fact you think your partner doesn’t love you, respect you, listen to you or is cheating on you.

If you want to have a constructive discussion put your own point of view (say “I…” rather than “Everyone/one/your mother…”), explain your feelings about what is going on rather than getting bogged down in the details of the events, listen as much as you talk. It really helps to use the formula “When you…(be specific) I feel…(explore your underlying emotions) because…(explore why exactly you react like that) what I would like is…(brainstorm a real solution)”

When you do ague there are some things you should NEVER say; “…and another thing…”, “My mother/friends/ex said I should never have gone with you” “I’ve never had an orgasm with you” are three.

If you’re arguing and you can’t sort it out, don’t be embarrassed or too proud to ask for help. I’ve counselled couples who have been tearing each other apart for 20 years and it’s hard in such circumstances to put them back together again – and they certainly haven’t been able to deal with the real reasons for the conflict. In contrast, I’ve helped couples in the early stages of marital conflict and it’s been easy to unpack the reasons and help them gain the skills to manage themselves in future.

An honest discussion every day would help a happy marriage. I suspect we’re talking semantics here but I’d say a row a day is a short cut to marital hell and it’s rubbish to say it helps.

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