A good argument has an upside – provided that feelings aren’t hurt and that partners fight fair. While occasional arguments might be unavoidable, a pattern of habitual fighting left unchecked can put the relationship at risk. Arguments are not necessarily a sign of a failed relationship or that the love is fading. They are often just a sign that the partners are expressing their own individuality, and this is healthy.
Granted, that when couples first meet, they may not have any arguments. This is the infatuation stage of the relationship when both people may feel they have met the perfect partner. But as time goes by a new relationship is molded not only by the similarities between partners but also the differences that bring interest, mystery and complexity to the relationship.
Healthy arguing can help to clarify each partner’s needs, for example setting boundaries or achieving better communications, and allows for each to maintain a sense of personal integrity in the relationship. Partners often feel relieved after they argue constructively and have a deeper intimate bond. The difference between a happy and unhappy relationship is often due to how the partners argue.
Some people avoid arguing out of fear that their underlying anger, which can get triggered during the arguing, will go out of control. For some, arguing is avoided because they feel inadequate. Some people were exposed to bitter arguments during childhood and want to avoid repeating the destructive patterns of their unhappy parents.
People who just hate to argue frequently make-up prematurely without resolving the issue in order to avoid a conflict. Or they may resort to fighting unfairly in an attempt to manipulate or otherwise gain power over their partner, instead or compromising and strengthening the relationship. Couples therapy that focuses on establishing new communication patterns can teach couples how to have emotionally healthy arguments and how to fight fair.
It’s also helpful to examine the themes of the argument. Couples may find that they always argue about the same issues time after time, without ever resolving the underlying problem. Here are some examples of themes:
- Arguments about money are seldom about money – they’re usually about power.
- Arguments about kids are usually about control.
- Arguing about chores is usually about fairness.
- Sexual arguments are usually about intimacy.
- Arguments about infidelity and jealousy are usually about maturity.
By identifying these underlying themes, we can usually communicate more directly and with a more positive outcome.
Clarify Your Level of Commitment to the Relationship
If arguments begin to have a deteriorating effect on a relationship and no resolution appears in sight, it is time for each partner to examine their level of commitment to the relationship. This is sometimes a basic issue that remains unresolved by partners. People avoid this issue out of fear that their partner may be on the verge of leaving so they never get a good sense of how their partner feels about the degree of intimacy and longevity they ought to have in the relationship.
Many arguments stem from the fact that one partner feels that the other is less committed, and this gives way to unresolved anger, fears of being abandoned, control attempts, and trying to change the other person. At this stage we may even see our partner as the enemy, a competitor and someone who is not to be trusted. Problems also arise when each person sees the commitment differently or when their expectations are unrealistic.
Unhealthy commitments involve one or both partners assuming that the other person is responsible for their happiness. A solid first step in working out conflict in a relationship is to clarify the degree of commitment each partner feels toward the other. An adaptive commitment to a relationship assumes that there are two mature, independent people whose needs, wants, and motives can change over the years – and this is precisely why communication about the commitment is necessary.
Commitment to a relationship should be a topic that both partners can occasionally bring up and be assured that their partner will be available to listen. Couples who have been together for decades often attribute their success to the commitment they have made to the relationship and their freedom to talk about it. When serious differences or repeated argument themes lead to hurtful, destructive conflict, professional couples therapy is strongly recommended.
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