Is it OK to argue?

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Didja ever meet a couple who never fought and then their relationship ended and everyone is surprised because they never argued?

I’ve met some of those couples before they actually separate, but after they recognize that things aren’t working and they better do something to avoid divorce court.

They get a little bug-eyed when they sit with a marriage counsellor (me!) who provokes them into discussing their disagreements. They fear voices being raised, they dread the thought of not appearing to be “on the same page”, they fear what might happen if they actually aknowledge that they don’t see eye to eye on something.

(With a bit of a fantasy that if conflict is not acknowledged, it doesn’t exist. If they don’t argue about something, then they are on the same page. If we don’t disagree about it with each other, then it it isn’t a problem. Yeah, right.)

As uncomfortable as arguing is, there is merit to aknowledging the differences that exist, and processing those differences. It is best done in a respectful manner (abiding by mutually established “rules of engagement”, as my colleague Rod Minaker would say), but facing what is helps it not sneak up on you in an ambush.

It is not disagreements or the discussion of them that make for marital strife. When destructive methods are used to express the distress, marital fracture occurs. It is important to find ways to stay connected when disagreeing, but pretending that disagreements don’t occur does not for a healthy marriage make.

I was reading the blog recently recommended by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. The blog gave “Five Reasons to Stop Avoiding Tough Issues”. In short form:

  1. The tension of avoiding the issue will undermine your happiness
  2. The relationship will be better if you address the issue
  3. Your value [as a spouse] will increase if you address the issue
  4. You cannot get what you want in the relationship unless you learn to negotiate with your partner.
  5. As a couple whom have been married for many years and are close what has been the major factors in building closeness and they won’t tell you about their enjoyable vacations…instead, they will tell you about the rough times they survived by pulling together.

Thanx, Lee for the input!

For more on finding relationship building ways to disagree, read The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John M. Gottman. It’s a helpful read, filled with hard research and evidence, and practical strategies and exercises to have a couple learn how to disagree in ways which strengthen the relationship.

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