Mental Help Net
Relationship Problems
Basic InformationMore InformationLatest NewsQuestions and AnswersBlog EntriesVideosLinksBook Reviews
Therapist Search
Find a Therapist:
 (USA/CAN only)

Use our Advanced Search to locate a therapist outside of North America.

Related Topics

Family & Relationship Issues
Homosexuality & Bisexuality

An Interview with Sharon Rivkin, M.A., M.F.T., on Resolving Arguments

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 1st 2010

download this podcast

Sharon RivkinArguments are an inevitable part of being in a relationship. While some couples are able to resolve most of their conflicts, others find themselves repetitively arguing and fighting, and ultimately becoming contemptuous of each other. Sharon Rivkin, a Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy, argues that in most cases, repetitive conflict within a relationship occurs when partners' deep-seated family-of-origin issues cause them to misinterpret one another's behavior as more of a personal attack than it really is. Ms. Rivkin's central insight is that a couple's first argument, usually still vividly remembered but distant enough in time to be objective about, is a fertile laboratory for unpacking and identifying what the core issues driving conflict are. In her words, the first argument you have as a couple is the same argument you're going to have the rest of your relationship. To break out of a repetitive argument cycle, partners must become aware of their individual root issues underlying their arguments and then use this knowledge to become more compassionate towards themselves and their partner. Becoming aware of and taking responsibility for personal issues is difficult because the natural tendency is to become angry in an automatic, unreflective manner and then to blame the partner for creating the issue. To break out of the argument cycle, each partner must reflect, take responsibility for their own historical issues and sensitivities, learn about their partners historical issues and sensitivities and then use that knowledge to make different choices about how to interpret and respond to argument inevitable triggers.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we'll be talking with marriage and family therapist Sharon Rivkin about her work with couples who fight. Sharon M. Rivkin, author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy, is a conflict resolution/affairs expert and marriage therapist. She has a master of arts in clinical psychology and specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy.

Sharon has been in private practice for over 29 years and is the developer of the "First Argument Technique," a groundbreaking three-step system that has helped hundreds of couples resolve their conflicts and heal and save their relationships with one piece of critical information. Sharon reports that, through her system, couples learn how to restore love and intimacy and create a stronger and more purposeful relationship.

Sharon's work has been featured in several national magazines and websites, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest,, and She has appeared on the Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, is an experienced public speaker and makes regular radio appearances nationwide.

Now, here's the interview.

Sharon Rivkin, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Sharon Rivkin: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

David: Let's start out with a bit about your background. When did you realize you wanted to become a therapist?

Sharon Rivkin: Well, I always tell people I think I knew maybe from the day I was born. It seems likes that's always what I was doing, was helping people, listening to people throughout my young years and high school, and then really realized, well, I could make a career of this and get paid for it and actually have a business. I just feel like it's a calling for me, to be honest with you.

David: Sure. I think that's how many of us got into it. We were the people in high school that everybody cried on our shoulder.

Sharon Rivkin: Exactly, exactly.

David: Confided in us, told us things that they didn't tell anybody else.

Sharon Rivkin: Exactly. Like without even asking questions, people just start talking to me, so it seemed like that's what I was made to do.

David: Yes, really. Now, you've written a book called Breaking the Argument Cycle, and it's for couples who want to stop fighting so much. How did you come to write this book?

Sharon Rivkin: I came to write the book out of a personal experience, and actually it started on one July 4th - which there was an anniversary of my discovery yesterday - and I was sitting at a fireworks celebration and really just miserable because I was in this terrible relationship that I couldn't stay in it and I couldn't get out of it. And I just kept wracking my brain of some way to change the cycle that kept happening in our arguments.

And I discovered that my boyfriend at the time would say certain things that brought me back to my childhood of memories of my sister calling me different names, and he just seemed to trigger me all the time. And it was then that I realized that we had been having the same argument from the very beginning, and it was the first argument that we had about a fence, but it triggered a lot of stuff in me about not saying things correctly, and he was always challenging me with my truth, which was a real issue for me.

And I realized that the first argument that you have as a couple is the same argument that you're going to have the rest of your relationship, and if you could get down to that core issue which that first argument actually triggers, you could begin to break the argument cycle, and that's exactly what I started to do for myself, was to look at what was getting triggered instead of having my pat responses when he would say certain things.

And that was the beginning of looking at destructive argument cycles with myself, with couples, to see how they can be broken. Because if you're arguing about the wrong thing, if you don't know what you're arguing about, you'll never resolve it and it will go on forever.

David: Well, that first argument is a fascinating premise that I haven't run into before. Now, I'm glad that you started off with a story because you've got lots of stories in your book and case history material, so I want you to feel free to throw in as much of that during our interview as you like. As I'm sure you know, stories always help to hold listener interest and, plus, we can see ourselves in them.

Sharon Rivkin: Absolutely. Yes.

David: Now, is there a certain amount of arguing and fighting between spouses that's normal?

Sharon Rivkin: Oh, absolutely. I mean you're not going to agree on everything with your partner. And, by the way, this can be a relationship with your child, with your co-worker; it's any kind of relationship that has meaning to you. And I mostly talk about couples because that's where I see most of it, but I just wanted to put that in. But a certain amount of arguing is absolutely normal.

It's those arguments that never get resolved, that repeat themselves, that you feel like you want to just hurt your partner or hurt yourself, or you're just miserable and in so much pain. Those are the arguments that I say trigger your core childhood issues - the one's that just linger. And if we don't resolve them, they just build and build, and then pretty soon you've got a huge wall between the two of you, and it's hard to break it down.

David: Well, you've really anticipated something I wanted to ask you, which was how can one tell if it's going too far. You know, if everybody has these arguments, how can one tell if it's going too far, if it's too much? And you say if you want to hurt them -

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah, I mean that sounds terrible, but you get that feeling like, oh, I just want them to suffer as much as I'm suffering.

David: Oh.

Sharon Rivkin: You know, that kind of feeling. You just want to get back at your partner. I think I'll say two things, and then I will give an example. When you're fighting about something like a fence or a wastebasket or a cookie - something that is just kind of a normal, inanimate object - and really your reaction is so out of proportion for what the topic is, then you really know that you've been triggered. And an example would be I worked with a couple that fought about pies, what kind of pie to bake.

David: Great.

Sharon Rivkin: And it's like, you got to know we can't really be fighting about pies. But they're ready, literally, to get divorced because he likes Mrs. Smith and she makes Marie Calendar. And what I discovered when I said to them, "Okay, well, what was your first argument?" and their first argument was that he didn't feel like he was being heard by her, and she felt that he was always trying to control her, boss her around.

And when we got down to some of their childhood issues, his was he had a mother that was very critical of him, and he never felt like his voice was being heard. So every time his wife baked Marie Calendar and he wanted Mrs. Smith pie, he felt one more time unheard and very hurt and angry. And she had a very powerful father, who was quite controlling, and she really never got to speak her mind and really talk about what was important to her. So she - you know for goodness sakes, she was going to bake the pie she wanted to bake, no matter what.

Well, once they realized they really weren't fighting with each other - they were really fighting about the old issues and he's mad at his mother, she's mad at his father - they could relax a little bit and have a little compassion for each other. And that's what starts to happen. When you realize your partner isn't really out to get you, that they're just getting triggered and you're getting triggered, then you've got a chance to really resolve the argument. And of course, guess what, she started to bake Mrs. Smith pies because she really didn't care about the pies once they understood each other. And he was so happy to have his Mrs. Smith pie and they stayed together.

David: All right. That's a great story. I couldn't help imagining them having a pie fight, though, throwing pies and everything.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah, I don't know why it never came to that, honestly, but they were too reserved maybe to throw the pies at each other, but certainly verbally they had it out.

David: What about mismatches in expectations and fighting style based on family background? Like some people grew up with a lot about loud back and forth, and they think of that as love, right?

Sharon Rivkin: Um-hmm.

David: I think of people from New York.

Sharon Rivkin: Yes, the loud ones.

David: That may be unfair.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah, well, loud and wanting to get their point across. Well, that's a very good point that you bring up, because often we do have very different fighting styles, and what I think isn't yelling maybe my partner thinks I'm absolutely screaming in his ear. But I think again if you can keep the lines of communication open, if you haven't built up so much anger and hostility from having the same fight over and over, you can really talk about that. You can say, "I know you think you're not yelling, but to me it's yelling, and in my family, we spoke in a whisper." And you can begin to understand the differences.

Again, most of the time the problems that couples run into is they take everything personally. "You're yelling at me because you don't like me," not "You're yelling at me because this is what you did in your family." We don't think that. We immediately take it on: I must have done something wrong. And once you're feeling like you're being attacked, you're just going to defend yourself. So, if you can keep those lines of communication open, you can talk about the different fighting styles, and it doesn't have to be a deal breaker.

David: I know things can happen really fast. Like from my own long marriage, I've observed that it can be like dry kindling in a long hot summer, that seemingly trivial things can trigger what feels like a lightning fast, automatic reaction. What's going on there?

Sharon Rivkin: Well, I think that it may seem like a trivial thing, but maybe, let's say - let me give an example. I had a couple that fought over a wastebasket, and that seems pretty trivial - where to place the wastebasket in the bedroom.

David: Yeah, and sometimes you read about murders over really trivial things.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah.

David: There was one just a week ago in the newspaper. I've forgotten what it was now, but it was something really trivial like that. But go ahead.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah, well, and it is. It looks like, on the surface, oh, my goodness, they're fighting about a wastebasket, and again, he's ready to hurt her; she's ready to hurt him. You just have to realize that you can never be that upset about a wastebasket. Something about that wastebasket represents something to him and something to her. And in their situation, it was a power struggle: she never got her way in her family; he never got his way in his family. By gosh, he's going to put the wastebasket where he wants it; she's going to put it where she wants it.

And if you can learn about your core issues, which I describe very specifically in my book Breaking the Argument Cycle, if you know what triggers you, then that lightning bolt reaction - you have a few minutes to go, "Wait a minute. I just got triggered. This can't be about the wastebasket. Let me breathe. Let me take a time out. Let me walk away." And you lessen that quickness of getting into an argument.

But it's very key to know what triggers you, because if you don't know that - like sort of embedded in your brain - you're going to get triggered, and then, before you know it, you're saying things you don't mean to say, you're doing things you don't mean to do. And we're all capable of that.

David: Well, speaking of the brain, the speed of the reaction makes me think of the lizard brain, you know the old part of the brain.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah.

David: That it's sub-cortical. And then maybe, as you say, as you learn to identify it, then you create some cortical connections. Does that make sense?

Sharon Rivkin: I think so. I think you don't automatically go to that primitive place, like you're saying, in the brain. You have a little cushion that gives you a minute to go, "Wait a minute. I don't really have to go there. Let me see what's happening. Let me think about this just for a minute, instead of just reacting impulsively."

David: So I take it that you're of the opinion that these triggers trigger perhaps unconscious memories from the past.

Sharon Rivkin: Absolutely, yeah. And if you -

David: What are some of the common hooks or triggers?

Sharon Rivkin: Some of the common hooks can be a word, a look, a voice tone - like "Don't talk to me that way," and your partner's saying, "What am I - what am I saying?" Well, maybe in your head - because your mother talked to you or yelled at you or didn't value you - you're hearing a tone of voice that sounds like criticism, and your partner may have no idea that they're doing that.

So you want to talk with your partner, and the earlier you can start talking about things - because in the early stages of a relationship, everything's wonderful, and you love your partner; you've met your perfect match; you can talk about anything. And so you want to talk about - that's why I say the first argument. Grab it when it comes up because within that first argument are the seeds either of destruction or of healing, and if you can start talking early on about "Wow, that's hard for me when you talk to me that way," you have a better chance of your partner hearing you; you have a better chance of saying it in a kind way.

Once the wall builds up, we become enemies with our partner, and then we're not very nice sometimes. So I think that you can learn those triggers early on and be aware, "Oh, if I look at my partner sideways, she's going to feel slighted because that's what happened to her in childhood." So you stop looking at her sideways. It's really not that hard to correct those things, usually, early on.

David: Yeah, it sounds like your book ought to be recommended to people who are about to get married so the -

Sharon Rivkin: I absolutely agree. I think it would be fabulous, because the couples that have come to me pre-marriage, I get many reports later on that it really, really helped them, because they're going into their marriage not blindly or not like "Whoa, everything's going to work out because I got married," but "Okay, these are his issues; these are my issues; here's some tools." They go into a marriage with tools, and the value of that I don't even think you can put - you can't even say what the value is.

David: You write about hooks. You use the term hooks, and you also use the term arrows. And what's the difference between hooks and arrows?

Sharon Rivkin: Well, a hook is something that triggers you, that - it's like you're saying: it's directly connected to unconscious feelings from childhood and maybe even conscious feelings from childhood. But something that someone says something to you - like my boyfriend that I mentioned earlier, he would always say, "Suit yourself." That's like "Suit myself? What does that mean?" And it would just make me so angry because I felt like he wasn't really hearing me. So I would get -

David: Yeah, it's like teenagers who say to their parents "Whatever…"

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah. "Whatever…" How do you answer that? And so I immediately would say, "What? Suit myself?" So I was hooked. The "suit yourself" is the arrow, so really the throwing out of the hook is the arrow, and then you get hooked into "Oh, boy; what does he mean by that? How do I answer that?" Or you usually just come back, "Well, you know, you go suit yourself." And then where does that get us? I mean we have these arguments that we say these things, and we don't even know what we're talking about or arguing about at the end of things.

So the arrow is really getting the arrow that's sent to you, that hooks you into an old childhood pattern. And once I realized that, okay, I will suit myself, and I started to talk to him differently. I'm going to suit myself, and that really stopped that attack-defense mode, and that's the main thing. When you get down to learning about your triggers, your hooks, you can nip it in the bud and you don't have to answer defensively to your partner. Because once we get into attack-defense, forget it. You might as well have a tape recorder and just tape what you're saying, for all the good that it's going to do to be arguing with each other.

David: Right. What are the biggest mistakes that couples make when they're at odds with each other?

Sharon Rivkin: I think the biggest mistakes - I think they're roadblocks, the boulders in the road - is you're shaming your partner, you're blaming your partner, and you think you're right all the time. And those are what arguments are usually made of, and if we can learn how to, instead of blaming, but take our own responsibility - talk about "Oh, I just got triggered," or "That really hurt me," instead of "You're an idiot," and "Why do you do this to me?" and "You must not love me." There's a big difference of just taking your share of responsibility.

And if you need to be right - you know the truth is probably in most arguments both people are right because they've got their point of view, but we fight to the death: "I'm right, and you better listen to me, and if you don't see it my way - " And those kinds of arguments just cause pain, suffering, and really destruction of the relationship, and leave us vulnerable to affairs, leave us vulnerable to being unhappy in our relationships. So you really want to start looking at your own part, and that's where you can look at your own core issue and know how you're being triggered, and may express that] to your partner.

David: One of the things that I thought of as you were just talking is what's been called mind reading. And often it seems like the partner is expecting that the other partner should read their mind and know what they're thinking or feeling or expecting.

Sharon Rivkin: Exactly. Yeah, and it's like why would we suddenly be mind readers? And it might say to people look in the mirror at yourself and read your own mind. What are you feeling? And that is a huge step for relationships, when two people take responsibility for their own actions, for their own words, for their own issues, and much less likely to cause pain and suffering.

David: Now, another thing you write about is the story below the story. How do we get - what is the story below the story? What's that referring to, and how does one get at that story below the story?

Sharon Rivkin: The story below the story is what I call a different name for your core issue, what's really driving you. And I'll give an example that might help with how do you get to that, because everybody has a slightly different way of getting to it, but basically you want to read between the lines. I worked with a couple that they - and this is probably a very familiar sounding argument - they fought about the messy house, and he was a neat freak and she was extremely messy. And he kept saying just clean up your mess, and she's going, well, I just can't, and they were really just fighting all the time about that.

So I told them; I said, okay, go home this week and take some time and just really think about what makes you messy. Let's just assume that you don't mean to be messy, but what makes you a messy housekeeper. And I wanted him to think about why it was so important for things to be so neat. And I said we can't argue about it this week. This is one week off of arguing about this messy house, because we need to go a little bit deeper; we need to go to the story below the story.

Well, she had such an Ah-Ha experience. It really just amazed her. She began to remember that her mother was a single mother for a long time and had a lot of male friends come over through the years, and the only time she would clean the house was when these men were coming over. So my client decided at a very young age, "I'm never cleaning a house for a man; I'm just not going to do that; I don't really care." And she began this thing of being messy, not knowing where it had come from.

So for her partner's piece of the puzzle, he came from an alcoholic family, and it was very, very chaotic. And the only way he could feel he had any kind of control in his family was to keep everything very neat and tidy. So, all of a sudden, a messy house has become her issues with her mom and his issues with his family, and it takes it out of them blaming each other - you're too neat; you're too messy; back and forth, back and forth - to some compassion and understanding of that story below the story. The story below the story of the messy house is that she wasn't going to clean for a man, and he needed everything neat to feel comfortable.

So they began to understand each other and, lo and behold, she started to clean the house better, and he relaxed a little bit that, oh, everything didn't have to be so neat; he could trust her and understand her. So they had a whole different take on the messy house, and that's the story below the story. There's always something underneath that house, messy house, the fence, the wastebasket, something that is calling us to look at and understand so we don't have to have the same argument over and over again, and again, fighting about trying to solve the wrong thing. If they had continued trying to solve the issue of the messy house just by him saying "Clean up" - "Well, I can't." You know where that goes - nowhere. We've all been there.

David: Yes.

Sharon Rivkin: So the story below the story enables us to get to the root of the issue and actually solve the problem and make some changes in our relationships.

David: Well, speaking of getting to the root, you also say that there's an underlying trauma. Is this always the case? Can you give an example? The story that you gave certainly goes back to childhood. I don't know if it qualifies as a trauma or not.

Sharon Rivkin: Yeah. I hope I didn't say that in my book there was always a trauma, because it sometimes is a trauma, and that's what - often it goes back to just a story below the story. There is no specific trauma: she wasn't abused; there wasn't anything terrible happening. It just was a memory. So I'll just say that sometimes it does go back to a trauma. The point is it always goes back to the past, and if you were traumatized in the past, it's going to go back to a trauma. If you were disappointed in the past, it's going to go back to that.

In my case, I had a sister that called me Ugg for most of my life - that stood for ugly - and my issues all go back to that, of believing somebody else before I believed myself, until I looked in the mirror one day and saw that I actually wasn't ugly. But anyone that questions my truth, I have a very hard time with that because that goes back to my childhood issues.

So once you discover your core issue, like for me not trusting myself and not knowing my own truth sometimes, I always know that's what's going to trigger me. That's the beauty of learning your core issue. It never changes. You're always going to go back to that same issue; that's what's going to trigger you. So it makes it kind of simple, in a way, once you know your core issue or your story below the story.

David: How do you feel about these very popular Australian boots that the young girls are wearing, called Uggs? They're called Uggs.

Sharon Rivkin: I feel I've been vindicated finally. Something called Ugg that everybody loves and thinks they're fabulous. So I love them myself.

David: Great. So that's a good reframe, as we say.

Sharon Rivkin: Absolutely. I was thrilled when they came on the market.

David: Now, you have a three-step approach, and the steps are Peel, Reveal, and Heal. So take us through your steps.

Sharon Rivkin: Okay. I call it the First Argument Technique, and you peel away the content of the first argument. So, you're fighting about - like many people fight at their wedding. I had a couple that fought about whether - she had promised him not to put cake in his mouth - I mean in his face - at the wedding, and she did that. So their first argument was really at their wedding. So we had to peel away the fact that she put cake in his face, and he felt humiliated, and right then and there the trust was broken. We peeled that away to reveal his core issue, which was that he had always been humiliated by his brothers, and his worst fear was to be humiliated at his wedding. And we revealed that she was not taken seriously in her family, and so she didn't take him seriously: "Oh, well, what's a little cake in the face? He won't mind." But he did. And once we revealed those core issues, the story below the story, the healing can take place in that relationship because now we know what we're talking about.

So you peel away the first argument to reveal the core issue, to begin healing the relationship, so that you know what you're arguing about and you can have resolution.

David: Sometimes we just let go. We give up, or it just seems like it's too much of a hassle: I don't want to get into that area again. But you don't recommend that.

Sharon Rivkin: I don't recommend that. I call that sweeping things under the rug, and it's never going to go away; it's going to build up. And I actually say to people, "Invite the conflict in." And the reason people get so tired of fighting is because they never get anywhere. It's that same thing. It's that same cycle. They recycle a different argument a different time, but it's the same issues that never got resolved. So I say welcome the conflict in with your first argument. Hurray! We had our first argument. Now we get to look at what it means - what did this trigger in you; what did this trigger in me? Learn that it's the most important argument you'll have because it's the one that tells you everything.

So I think that if you can, again, welcome the conflict, look at it, you're not going to sweep things under the rug, because everything's going to be out in the open, and you're not going to get so tired and weary. And that's why a lot of couples end up coming to therapy: they feel hopeless; they feel helpless; they're exhausted; they can't do it anymore. And you can't blame them. And I say, yeah, you can't be doing this anymore, because this is not helping you. This is hurting and destroying the relationship. But I have a way that can start healing the relationship.

And even with couples that have been fighting for 15, 20 years, you can still go back to that same argument because, remember, it never got resolved, and you'd be surprised at how many people remember exactly what happened in their first argument like it was yesterday. And for once in maybe many years, they actually agree on something, which is a very powerful point in therapy, is that agreement that at least they agree on what the first argument was, and there we start.

David: And there we start. Now, earlier, you mentioned in passing extramarital affairs, and extramarital affairs are a particularly challenging issue. They're widespread, and of course, we've all heard about a number of very high profile affairs in the media. What's your stance on working through the hurt, disappointment and anger that swirls around an affair?

Sharon Rivkin: Well, I have several points, and the first one, I would say, is that when somebody has an affair, there are couples that don't want to separate. They want to try to work it through, and they feel very guilty about that, especially the person that's been cheated on. And my feeling is, if you want to try to work it through, there are certain ways that you can, and it's not an impossibility to recover from an affair.

Now, it takes a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of redoing of the relationship, but it actually can be an opportunity to begin to really heal your relationship and understand your relationship and get new tools for change. So it can be a positive thing in the long run. I'm not saying it's a positive to go have an affair to heal your relationship, but there are many people that do heal from them. And, you know, you have to rebuild trust; you have to rebuild many, many things.

But, again, it goes back to that first argument that never got resolved and that people are hurt and angry and drifting apart. And when we aren't getting our needs met in relationships, we're vulnerable to finding somebody else that's going to fill our needs. I think certain affairs that - if somebody's a sex addict, or if there's just perpetual and you work on things and it never changes, I think certain affairs you're not going to heal from. But each couple is so individual that I can't make a blanket statement that if you've been cheated on, you should get out of the relationship. I would have to evaluate, and the couple has to evaluate.

But it's everybody's worst fear, and it's the ultimate in betrayal, really, so that the healing process is quite lengthy, and you're not just going to one-two-three get over it.

David: Okay. Well, as we wind down here, could you summarize the do's and don'ts of fair fighting?

Sharon Rivkin: I would say with fair fighting you do want to listen. You do want to be as clear about your own position as you possibly can, so that you're not blaming and shaming. And you do want to have an idea of what your trigger points are, so that you're able to say things in a way that aren't just demeaning and destructive to your partner. And you want to be able to take a time out if you need to and not talk about the argument right in the heat of the moment. Sometimes you want to declare a truce: hey, we're going out to dinner; we can't talk about this right now. Let's table it till later. And mostly you just want to know about yourself, so that you're not hitting below the belt with your partner; you're not taking something that you know hurts your partner and purposely hitting them with that, and I don't mean hitting literally, but verbally.

So the don'ts would be: don't shame, blame, and have to be right in the relationship. Don't fight; try to argue late at night or when somebody's rushing out the door. That would be a time to table things. And don't make your partner your enemy. So often that's what happens in couples is we just start hating the person that we once fell in love with. So you do want to keep love alive by keeping the lines of communication open.

And the other thing I tell people is don't take everything personally. If somebody says something to you and it hurts you, I always say, "What if you didn't take it personally?" Then you're going to see that person in a whole different light. Maybe they're just talking about themselves and they're hurt themselves; they're not really trying to get you. So those would be some of the do's and don'ts.

David: Well, that's a good list. Is there anything that you haven't had a chance to say here that you were hoping maybe you would get a chance to say?

Sharon Rivkin: I guess I would just reiterate: know that when you're having that same argument over and over, you've got to do something different to break the argument cycle. You've got to take one little baby step, so that if your partner says something to you and you usually respond with "Oh, go suit yourself" - I'll just use my thing as an example - say something different; do something different. Because if you keep repeating the same thing - you say the same thing; he says; she says - you're going to keep that cycle going.

And every time you have an argument, it puts a wedge in the relationship. I talk about building a wall, and every time you have a fight, the wall gets higher and higher and harder and harder to bring it down, and then you begin to lose the love that you started out with. So I would say look at the cycles and start doing something that might break them. And, of course, you can always read my book, Breaking the Argument Cycle, and you can order it through or on my website,

David: And it's a very pertinent, I think, for most couples, and as you say, not just couples. Well, Sharon Rivkin, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.

Sharon Rivkin: Well, thank you, David, very much. It was a pleasure.

David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with marriage and family therapist Sharon Rivkin. Sharon and I have never met in person; however, she does live in the same general vicinity, and we have discovered that we have a number of friends in common. We could have met in person for this interview, but I find I actually have better control over the quality of the recording when they are over the phone.

Sharon has an excellent reputation, I can tell you, as a therapist here in Sonoma County, California - an hour or so north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Her web address once again is I think most of us could benefit from reading her book, Breaking the Argument Cycle, and I'm happy to recommend it to you.

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Sharon Rivkin

Sharon RivkinSharon M. Rivkin, author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy, is a conflict resolution/affairs expert and marriage therapist. She has a Master of Arts in clinical psychology and specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy. Sharon has been in private practice for over 29 years and is the developer of the "First Argument Technique," a groundbreaking, three-step system that has helped hundreds of couples resolve their conflicts, and heal and save their relationships with one piece of critical information. Through her system, couples learn how to restore love and intimacy, and create a stronger and more purposeful relationship. Sharon's work has been featured in several national magazines and websites including O: The Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest,, and She has appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio, is an experienced public speaker, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. For more information, please visit her website at

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Follow us on Twitter!

Find us on Facebook!

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
verify here.

Powered by CenterSite.Net