Why relationship arguments are actually a good thing
Wondering if arguments are damaging your relationship? Dr Neil Clark Warren, founder of eharmony, explains how you can deal with conflict in a positive way and why arguing can be a good thing in the long run
After years of studying couples and their relationships, I’ve come to the conclusion that conflict can be a good thing. Two people, who have grown up in different homes, will have different ways of approaching conflict, but it’s how they manage that conflict that determines the strength of their relationship. Let’s look at it another way. If you don’t have relationship arguments, one of two things are usually occurring:
1. One person has taken charge
This can often happen – one person dominates the relationship, and effectively you have two people living one person’s life. But over time, this can cause major stress to the person who is being overruled, and they will usually end up resenting their partner who is in charge.
2. You’re ignoring the problem
Some people think that by pretending conflict isn’t there will make it appear as if their relationship is working. I’ve seen these kinds of couples in my office when I was a relationship counsellor – they don’t look at each other, they don’t like each other much, they’re grown apart.
How conflict can be positive
Conflict is made positive by being tackled and dealt with properly, bringing couples closer together. It also has a greater effect, in growing the relationship beyond what either partner could ever have imagined. As a couple, one of the ways you know you’re ready for marriage is by being sure that you can manage conflict together.
Couples who say they don’t have conflict in their relationship are probably kidding themselves. If you genuinely haven’t had it then bear in mind that you will need to be able to solve conflict within your relationship if you are planning on getting married. Also remember that respect is the most important factor in a long-lasting and healthy relationship – with respect for each other any couple should be able to overcome conflict.
If you’re dealing with conflict, here is my five step plan to help you turn it into a positive experience:
Step 1: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion
We all have a right to our own opinions, and every couple should say that to each other. Write it on a Post-It and stick it somewhere important if you must. They may not match the thoughts and feelings of your partner, but this is the right mindset to tackle any conflict.
Step 2: Everyone has a desperate need to be heard
My wife and I used to debate late into the night, each of us alternately putting our points of view across in different ways. Eventually, this would become conflict. But, after a while, one of us would suddenly say, ‘Let me see if I understand your point’, just as we were starting to understand the other’s point of view. Then everything would be quiet, because we had reached a level of understanding. The point is, we all need to be heard and understood by the person we love most – whatever route we take to get there.
Step 3: Work out where you differ
It’s amazing the things that can get dredged up in an argument, but try to keep it simple. Work out what you actually differ on and stick to the facts. It’s not helpful to bring other things up (‘Well, last time we talked about my mother you said…’)
Step 4: Employ a compromise statement
This is a statement you say to show you’re ready and willing to compromise in a conflict. For example, my wife has heard me say this many times: ‘Okay now, how can I give on this and how can you give on this so that we will be together?’. It might seem a little artificial at first but it means you’re close to a resolution and gives you both a good marker as to where you are in your conflict.
Step 5: When you come to a conclusion, congratulate each other
It’s important not only to try and resolve conflict carefully, but to recognise your achievement when you have done so. By telling your partner how you appreciate they have handled a conflict in a good way (assuming they have) then your relationship can go from strength to strength.
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