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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Arguing and Marriage: Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 10th 2009

 Remember the old Frank Sinatra song, "Love and Marriage go Together Like a Horse and Carriage?" Well, the same can be said of marriage and fighting. The problem is not so much that married couples fight but how they fight and how often.


Does it seem as though I am suggesting that marriage and disagreement are inevitable? Yes!
Two human beings, living together in an intimate relationship are going to have their times when they mildly disagree, moderately disagree and strongly, even vehemently disagree.
In this article I will discuss how couples could go about handling their differences so that an argument carries a lot less of the sting and resentment than it otherwise does.

How to handle marital conflict:

1. Negotiate rules of arguing behavior. This negotiation will probably not take place until after the first argument. Then, when feelings are sore and the couple is feeling anxious and vulnerable about the disagreement, people are more open to collaborating on how to handle future conflicts.

2. It is really important that conflict not occur when alcohol is in the picture. Many people experience an increase in irritability and impulsiveness when under the influence. It is really best to avoid conflict during these times and wait until alcohol has worn off, usually, the next morning. In fact, minimizing the amount of drinking never hurts a relationship.

3. Humor is a good way to reduce the injury suffered in a conflict. Many couples have described to me their ability to suddenly see the absurdity of the situation and start laughing. Good. That is an excellent way to minimize the entire thing. Too many marital spouts are really "much ado about nothing."

4. Many people are advised to avoid "going to bed angry." In actuality, it is often a good idea to place a long pause in the course of an argument and just go to bed. By the next morning many people are surprised to see how their feelings have changed and the anger has abated.

5. Interrupting the fight is always a good idea. There is nothing wrong with a couple agreeing to stop the fight and go to separate rooms, or, if the apartment is too small, go for a walk around the corner. This gives everyone a chance to calm themselves and reconnect later.

6. One great way to disarm an argument is to embrace and hug. Of course, this needs to be an agreed upon strategy. However, it is very difficult to remain angry when hugging occurs.

7. This is why it is important to refrain from demonizing your spouse. It becomes all too easy, under the influence of anger, to begin experiencing your spouse as a terrible person who "always does this or never does that." In fact, I have counseled couples to practice eliminating "all" or "always" or "never," types of words from their arguing vocabulary.

8. There are no perfect people and, therefore, each person contributes their part to the hurt and anger in an argument. That is why the best thing to do is to admit a mistake you made, or a hurt you caused or admit some other type of injury you contributed to.

9. I have often told young couples that there are now three people in the marriage: "you, him and the marriage." It is important for people in an intimate relationship to stop thinking of "I" and what is best for "me" and to start thinking about what is best for "us" and "our marriage.

10. Number 9 provides the reason why it is so important to stop before saying something you may later regret because it is not good for the marriage.

11. I have been surprised by the number of couples who come for marriage therapy dreadfully afraid that the arguing is symptomatic of a "sick marriage." In actuality, that is mostly not the case. To go back to the start of this article, it is not that couples quarrel but how they do it that is the problem. And, the way people argue is often the result of what they witnessed between their parents arguing when they were children.

A final note is this: Just because there has been an argument is no reason to "catastrophize." People quarrel and can learn how to reduce the level and intensity of those fights. If it is not possible, then, there is always marriage or couples counseling and that can help a great deal.

Your comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    great post - Becky - Feb 14th 2011

    Great post! Thanks for the insight. I appreciate your take on fighting and arguments. It’s always tough to know when fighting is productive and when it’s too much fighting. I stumbled upon this blog about fighting like I found yours- http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/more-fighting/

    I thought you and your readers might enjoy it as well. Thanks again for the post! I’d like to see more like it.

    Thank you - - May 19th 2009

    Thank you. I do have a tendanacy to think an argument is the end of the world which is totally a result from my childhood and family experiences. I always worry if I argue I will lose him which is not the case. Also happy to see that our approaches to tense times are some of what you reccomend so we must be on the right path.

    THANK YOU - - May 2nd 2009

    THANK YOU SO MUCH, YOUR ARTICLE HAS HELPED ME ALOT, NOW I CAN TALK TO MY HUSBAND INSTEAD OF MAKING  A BIG DEAL OUT OF NOTHING

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