Marriage help: Are your arguments helping or hurting your marriage?

Q: “I need some marriage advice. Is arguing bad for a marriage? My husband says it’s healthy to argue from time to time but I try to avoid marital conflict at all costs. Can you shed some light on this for us?”

A: Relationship conflicts are a natural part of marriage or a long-term romantic relationship. And marital conflict isn’t necessarily a sign that your relationship is in trouble. As someone married over forty years recently shared with me, “A good argument makes for a good relationship!”

So I agree with your husband’s view that an argument (periodic marital conflict) can help keep your marriage running on all cylinders, but I’d like to add a few caveats.

We need to make a distinction between a “good argument” and a “bad argument”—since not all conflict is healthy. The good news is that there are signs that can help you and your spouse/partner figure out if conflict is benefiting your relationship or hurting it.

Let’s look at what distinguishes a healthy conflict from an unhealthy one.

Characteristics of a healthy argument

A healthy conflict:

1. Clears the air and brings important issues out into the open;

2. Informs you about what is important to your spouse/partner;

3. Informs you about what isn’t working for your spouse/partner;

4. Gives direction to any changes that maybe needed;

5. Doesn’t deteriorate into name-calling and hostilities, even when emotions run high.

Characteristics of an unhealthy argument

An unhealthy conflict:

1. Shuts down communication;

2. Doesn’t lead to any insight into each other’s needs/viewpoints;

3. Consists of hostile verbal attacks (a total lack of respect for each other in the moment);

4. Causes emotional wounding and defensiveness (and little else);

5. Keeps the status quo of the relationship and prevents growth.

The reality is that couples will have both healthy and unhealthy arguments during their relationship. To help you determine if an argument is healthy (useful to the growth of the relationship), you and your spouse/partner can engage in a post-conflict analysis. You’ll need to let time pass to allow the ambers of heated emotions cool before this analysis occurs.

Any post-conflict analysis should start with a recognition that you love and care about each other. Never minimize your positive feelings toward each other. Then ask yourself the following:

~What was accomplished by this most recent conflict?

~What did I learn about myself?

~What did I learn about my spouse/partner?

~How can I use this information to strengthen our relationship?

The answers to these questions can help you shape and strengthen your marriage or relationship.