The beginning of a relationship, or the “honeymoon phase” is a time when partners cannot see anything wrong with each other. Your partner is flawless! Even if something is slightly awry, you ignore and compromise. This situation starts to change once the dandy phase is over. You now notice that you both may have deviating opinions and contentious beliefs. It is now that the relationship gets tested. It is now that you have arguments.
Contrary to popular belief though, having an argument is not necessarily an indication of turbulent times ahead. Partners who engage in healthy arguments can, in fact, learn a lot from one another. Arguing is a major form of communication. A coherent argument reflects individuality, perspective and the ability to teach each other in a relationship. Arguing well though is a skill that may take some time to develop.
Dr. Gail Saltz, Psychiatrist with the NewYork Presbyterian Hospital, suggests some salient features for a healthy argument:
- Don’t insist on being right
- Speak up as soon as you feel anger
- Stick to the topic at hand
- Avoid saying something you will regret
Au contraire, the lack of arguments in a relationship may mean that something is not right. Partners who do not argue when contentions arise might be bottling up their frustrations. This leads to partners distancing themselves from each other as neither party wants to share their thoughts that may hurt the other. This lack of engagement shows an inherent lack of trust and may manifest itself in an uglier form later down the road. Perhaps this lack of trust needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Are you able to freely express your ideas in the relationship? Can you truly be yourself? Are you afraid of crossing boundaries?
Sharing some interesting thoughts on Psychology Today, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis states that there are seven ingredients to a healthy and happy relationship, and arguing is one of them. She goes on to explain, “I’ve never seen a healthy couple that doesn’t argue. They never fight, however – they argue. If a couple comes into my office and tells me they’ve never argued, something isn’t quite right. You can argue without fighting. Arguing is non-combative – you and your partner state your points of view without name-calling or raising your voice. Sometimes you agree to disagree – and that’s okay. Figure out what your ‘non-negotiables’ are – the things that you will not budge on. Now rethink that list. I like the saying, you can either be right or married.”
Partners must accept that there will be challenges and conflicts in a relationship. People want to be heard, understood and be acknowledged for who they are. Arguments are a way of putting these needs forth. Happy couples address these needs. In moments of heavy discussion, it is important to show mutual respect whilst putting your individual points of view forward.
In a healthy relationship, partners learn to pick and choose their battles. They understand what they just need to let go. Author and motivational speaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, says it best: “You can measure the happiness of a marriage by the number of scars that each partner carries on their tongues, earned from years of biting back angry words.” Partners in a trusting relationship can argue without being angry. They can show different sides of an issue to each other.
An interesting angle to this is that couples who engage in healthy arguments tend to be more passionate. A lot of couples enjoy the make-up sex after an intense argument. They use the sex as a way to find their way back to each other. They show that love and respect for each other triumphs over any difference they may have. Relationship expert Dr. Pam Spurr agrees and states “The way in which you argue signals so much about a relationship. The wise couple acknowledges this and keeps an eye on how they treat each other over disagreements. Subconsciously, bickering demonstrates you care about each other even if while bickering you feel annoyed towards your partner. For instance, it shows that you do want your partner to drink less and look after their health. Or you do want them to be on time so that neither of you is stressed out when you have places to be and things to do, etc.”
You can state a point you believe in without hurting the other party involved. Disrespect towards a loved one may sound the death knell of a relationship. Respect, trust, and compassion are important contributors towards a happy relationship. Once these are established, you can truly be yourself and know that your partner will be your strength no matter the differences you have.