If a couple really loves each other, they won’t argue.
Arguing is not the right way to handle problems.
Anger and arguing are sinful behaviors.
These are not statements we make on #staymarried. But, I realized recently that they are statements many of you have heard and believed.
What We Learned From Our Parents
You may have heard these things in your childhood from your particular sect of faith, or maybe you understood them as truths because you never witnessed your parents disagree about anything. Or, on the other side of the pendulum swing, you saw your parents yell and fight bitterly your entire childhood and vowed you would never be in a relationship like that.
So much of our understanding of what is healthy and loving is informed by the first relationship we ever witnessed – our parents’. This is good when your parents actually had a healthy relationship. However, it can be a damaging hurdle to overcome if your parents’ relationship was unhealthy.
It’s because I grew up in a single-parent home that I rely so much on reading and researching to understand how a couple should interact at all. You see, for me, being in a long-term committed relationship does not come naturally. Truthfully, I don’t really know what to do. I read and think and write because there hasn’t been one time in my relationship with with my husband that a little voice in the back of my mind has said, “Well, that’s not the way my dad did things. That’s not how my parents talked to each other. I think we should do things this way because that’s how I grew up and it feels right.”
In my desire to have a good and long-lasting marriage, I have wondered if other couples argue. Through a quick scour of the internet, I found all sorts of lists of the most common topics couples are fighting about. Here, in no particular order, is a compilation of those lists…
The Top 10 Things All Couples Argue About
If you have ever fought about any of these things, you’re in good company. Apparently, the stuff that irritates me and causes tension in my marriage is the same stuff that probably irritates you in your marriage. It’s a bit comforting to know that we aren’t all that different.
Some friends from our #staymarried community sent me an article they read that they both found troubling. The underlying idea was that couples should not argue. If they are arguing at all they can and should stop immediately. The author argued… wait, I’m sure he didn’t argue… the author ‘brought to light’ that “if you truly desire to change the way you communicate – if you truly want to stop arguing with your spouse, it’s not really all that complicated… don’t argue.”
Don’t argue. Huh? I suppose I never considered that before. Just don’t argue. So, if Tony and I disagree about parenting, and he is really insistent, I should… uh… not say anything so that we don’t argue. If I have taken a bit of liberty with the budget, when my husband sees the extra expenses on the bank statement he should… well, he should just keep his frustration to himself so we don’t argue about it. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Wait. Wait just a second. No, that doesn’t sound right at all. I can appreciate a teeny tiny bit of what the guy was trying to say. I agree that we shouldn’t be hostile toward our spouse. However, the idea that we simply should not argue is bound to set every single one of us up for failure. Because we do argue. Because none of us thinks exactly like anyone else. Because we have differences of opinion about everything on that list above. Because the only person’s mind we can ever come close to reading is our own, and even then it’s not so easy… If we have in mind that we should simply choose not to argue, we are in danger of bringing something much worse than temporary tension from a little spat into our marriages.
What happens if we don’t argue?
It is my experience that lack of arguments don’t indicate healthy relationships, but often conflict avoidant, passive aggressive relationships which end up breeding contempt. The healthiest relationships are not those absent of conflict, but those that recognize conflict is unavoidable in authentic relationships, and therefore choose to remain committed during the “rupture” for the sake of repairing (and strengthening) the relationship. This rupture and repair is the basic tenant of building trust and strengthening a relationship.
Don’t you wish your friends were as wise as mine?
Contempt. That is the danger. Nobody likes the tension from an argument, but that tension can be repaired if issues are brought to the surface. Feelings of contempt, on the other hand, are not so easily repaired.
Contempt usually has a subtle way of taking root in one or both partners. It begins by feeling misunderstood or unvalued. Then the person who is feeling slighted decides to bury that feeling, maybe as a protective defense mechanism, and not bring it out into the open. From there, it is easy for the spouse that is hurt to begin to think horrendously negative thoughts about their partner… He or she is stupid, disgusting, foolish, lazy, incompetent, the worst. This message then gets expressed in direct or subtle actions like eye-rolling, ignoring, and dismissing the person they once were so in love with that they made vows to honor and cherish them for the rest of their lives. Do you see how insidious contempt can be?
It is so damaging that Dr. John Gottman – a different John than my friend who made the astute comment above – has named contempt as the “the single greatest predictor of divorce” of his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The question, then, is not whether or not you should argue with your spouse. The question is how will you argue? Will you argue for the purpose of expressing yourself and allowing your partner to express him/herself even if your viewpoints are different? Will you be respectful while you argue, avoiding low blows, name-calling, and ultimatums? Will you approach believing your partner is guilty before they’ve had a chance to explain themselves or with the intention of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt? What will you do with your feelings and the way you express them the next time you disagree with your partner?
It is absolutely okay to be angry, but it is never okay to be cruel.
Arguing itself is not bad. Arguing with your partner is not an indicator that your relationship is doomed. Arguing is not sin. Arguing is a normal and natural part of any authentic relationship. It’s important to learn healthy and respectful ways to argue and we are here to help with that. We want you to engage with your partner when you disagree because the alternative, holding in your thoughts and burying your feelings, breeds contempt and studies show us that a contemptuous couple will find it very difficult to #staymarried.
You are reading What Would Happen if We Did Not Argue?, a #staymarried blog. If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about healthy conflict in your marriage, you may also enjoy The Three Marriage Monsters and Soften Your Startup.
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