Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Written By: Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart, MS, MAT
“I didn’t expect us to argue when we got married.” Is a statement we have heard many a couple say during our Safe Haven Marriage Intensives. Unrealistically, couples often believe that to ‘not argue’ is a sign of a happy marriage.
Actually, ‘not arguing’ is not an ingredient of a healthy marriage.
Research has found that ‘not talking’ is hurtful to a marriage. When a couple progressively stops sharing their views, hurts and longings they slowly disconnect. They no longer know what the other is genuinely feeling, thinking or needing. Friendship erodes. Eventually they drift apart. Then they are less likely to turn toward each other and seek support. To be emotionally disconnected from your spouse is lonely and painful. And to make it work, couples begin to live parallel lives. Side-by-side but not connected.
It’s good to talk through issues in your marriage, but it is the way you talk, or argue, that is damaging to your marriage.
Most couples discover that it doesn’t take much to start an argument. It’s often triggered by a difference of opinion around everyday situations such as how to load the dishwasher, what’s a healthy kids snack or whether or not it was okay to answer a text during date night. Both partners try to convince the other that their way of seeing the situation or doing something is better. As the saying goes, “I am not arguing, I am just passionately telling you why I am right.” When the ‘discussion’ gets heated, one or both talk louder and harsher, and eventually feelings are hurt. John Gottman’s research shows that conversations turn destructive when they are filled with criticism (what’s wrong with you for doing that), defensiveness (you are the one with the problem, not me), or contempt (name calling, rolling of eyes in disgust or sarcastically mimicking). When the argument goes nowhere each pull away. No couple enjoys ‘arguing’ as the resulting not being understood and emotional disconnection is painful.
Arguing can be healthy when it consists of a considerate exchange of views, opinions, hurts, complaints, longings or requests for change. In this way, you are able to share with your spouse how you enjoy helping with dishes but feel hurt when always told a different way of packing the dishwasher. Or share why you feel soda is not good for your toddler and how you’d like to team to find a better snack option. Or, how you are longing for closeness and checking phones is distracting during date nights.
During good deep conversations, you and your spouse get to know each other and can better understand each other’s perspective and hurt. And as you talk (or argue constructively) you can come up with a solution that is best for the ‘us,’ or you might agree to disagree, or realize you both need to find the time to discuss the issue further. Discussing the issues is important. Discussing the issues in a kind and considerate way is key.
Having productive conversations with your spouse is vitally important for a good marriage. Yet it can be difficult. It takes work. It is the heart of God for you and your spouse to share your views, hurts, complaints and longings in a way that is kind. And in doing so, you can both be heard and understood.
Philippians 2:14 “Do everything without grumbling or arguing”
Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”