Q: My husband and I argue a lot. One of us always ends up storming out of the room and nothing gets resolved. How can we deal more effectively with our arguments?
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A: You're right to feel that storming out of the room is a problem. But arguing is not. Disagreeing well, which often takes the form of an argument, is an important part of a good relationship.
Because your husband is not your clone, your opinions will sometimes differ. How you negotiate those differences is predictive of how healthy a relationship you will have.
Arguing well can even result in further intimacy because it shows both of you that you can disagree yet find a way to compromise and still love each other.
But arguing well is a skill that takes time to build. Here are some suggestions:
- Don't insist on being right. It's not about right or wrong. There are two sides to every story. The point is to find a position both of you can accept.
- Speak up as soon as you feel anger rising.. Don’t wait until you are fuming — the longer you stew on things, the harder it is to resolve a disagreement.
- Listen. Nothing is more frustrating than the feeling you are not being heard. Repeating what your spouse says and making him feel understood can really help to diffuse anger.
- Stick to the topic at hand. Couples tend to start fighting about specific topics and move on to every single thing that makes them mad. Pulling out old hurts and infractions will only fuel the fire.
- Don't say something you will regret. If, in your rage, you fear you might say something you will later feel bad about, that’s a good time to call a time out — a short break to blow off steam. Go for a jog, take a bath, walk the dog. Return more clearly to the topic afterward.
In general, it is better to find some kind of resolution to an argument than to walk out in a huff. This can even be an agreement to disagree and to revisit the subject later.
Dr. Gail's Bottom Line: Disagreements in a marriage are necessary and healthy, but arguing well includes finishing your disputes in a constructive way.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com. Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” is to be published in May 2004.
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.