Monday, May 9, 2011

When Arguing Is Good for Marriage

When Arguing Is Good for Marriage
By Marlo Thomas

You've probably known a couple that seems endlessly happy – then suddenly, without even a whisper – they file for divorce. Yet there's that other couple, the ones who bicker constantly, who have been together for 30 years! Maybe there's something to be said about a good argument! Phil and I worked really hard from the beginning to learn how to fight and be honest – but not hit below the belt. According to Catherine Blyth, the author of "The Art of Marriage," good arguing is the key to getting things out in the open, without doing major damage. Catherine, lots of people just prefer to not make waves. But that's not necessarily the best answer, is it?
Avoiding arguments does a marriage no favors. Although couples fight when their marriages are failing, research suggests that arguments are not in themselves symptoms of bad marriages; rather, it is destructive arguments that bring couples down. Quarrelling well is the best remedy, since withdrawing is itself grounds for a fight, as it looks like disrespect.
This is tricky, Catherine, because some people would rather withdraw than argue.
It's true and so often you find complete opposites in a marriage! Marriage analysts believe that this is about one spouse seeking greater closeness, and the other seeking greater independence. Quite often, but not necessarily, you'll see it's the woman who wants to discuss things and the men who stonewall. Women are culturally conditioned to take the emotional temperature of relationships, while men are conditioned to avoid such revealing displays.
But what we see most often is, the partner who spends the least time at home has the least to argue about! It's the partner that makes the greater domestic contribution, who may feel overloaded, that will want to bring their partner into their dilemmas, or better still, to get them to help –and as you might expect – that's where many arguments begin.
But done correctly, arguing is actually good for a marriage.......
Every argument has one virtue: like a volcano, it releases pressure. Some rows are cathartic, others make fine foreplay. Many also uncover a point of conflict, clarifying feelings about issues and communicating them unambiguously to a spouse. This service can be particularly useful to men. While wives tell researchers of their disappointment in marriage, husbands talk not of their own disappointment, but of their wives'. This oblique, not to say obtuse, approach to expressing their emotions is even more disturbing when you learn that it is the husbands' sorrows, not wives', that have the strongest influence on a marriage's success.
So if he picks a fight, you could say that, in his clumsy way, he is sending a powerful message that he cares and wants his marriage to improve.
If a couple knows how to argue well, their marriage will improve. Marriage expert John Gottman concluded from his extensive studies of newlyweds that those who started their marriage refusing to tolerate "negativity --- those who insisted on gently confronting each other when, say, the other was contemptuous or defensive – wound up happy and satisfied years later." [See 4 Ways to Drain the Negative Energy From an Argument]
You've got some rules for a good argument.
In any bust-up, two matters are under dispute: first, your respect for each other's right to have a different point of view, and second, the headline issue that the argument is officially about. Seek to win an argument and you are trying to impose your point of view, as much as to reach the right solution, thereby weakening your marriage. Since 69% of marital rows are over insoluble differences, neither can win, so a domineering approach will rarely succeed.
A safer approach is to dismount your high horse and seek a win-win solution. By this light, a good argument respects each side's point of view, does not escalate tension, and reaches a conclusion that injures neither. To quarrel productively, a couple must first diagnose what is at issue, then each must air views without the other's interrupting, then clarify and summarize each other's positions to ensure that points are understood. Then grope for a solution.
That said, the wisest argument is the one that we have with ourselves before opening our mouth, when we ask, "Does it matter?"

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