When people first reach out to us about couples therapy, I always ask, “Why are you calling now? The most common answer is that they’re arguing.
While being proactive about the health of your relationship is always a good thing, couples are often relieved to learn that arguing isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s perfectly normal for couples to argue. Of course, there are times when arguing is a problem. So, how can you tell the difference?
Here are five signs arguments could be causing more serious problems in your relationship.
Arguments never lead to resolution.
Most couples have themes that recur in their disagreements, but when you have the same argument over and over without any resolution, you may have a bigger problem. It could be that the basic communication skills are in need of a tune up, or it’s possible the recurring arguments are triggering deeper issues but blocking any sort of resolution.
Arguments end with one of you stonewalling.
Another way to avoid resolution is by stonewalling, which is one person shutting down the argument before you’ve reached any sort of conclusion. A person generally walks away like this because they are either too frustrated to continue or they are just emotionally overwhelmed. If one of you feels the need to just walk away from a heated conversation with your partner, your arguing may be in the problematic zone.
Arguments regularly include name calling or excessive cursing.
Sometimes it’s not the argument that’s the problem, but the way in which you argue. What’s the harm in using a few four-letter words? Well, if your arguments include calling one another names or excessive cursing, this may be a sign of a higher level of frustration that should be addressed.
Arguments leave you feeling disconnected from your partner.
Recently, when talking about their sex life in therapy, a Brooklyn couple agreed that they still liked having sex with one another but felt as if they were always arguing or still stinging from an argument. This meant neither ever felt close enough to approach one another for intimacy. If your arguing is affecting your feelings for your partner, and in turn taking a toll on your intimacy, it’s time to address it.
Arguments are what you remember when you think of your relationship.
If arguing is OK, how do you know if the arguing is happening too frequently? When you see a picture of your partner, or hear a song they love and think of them, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If it’s your hostile feelings from recent arguments, you are arguing too much.
What type of “fighter” are you?
In order to help keep arguments from going too far, it’s important to identify what kind of “fighter” you are. According to University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, there are at least six categories most people fall under when they’re fighting.
- You avoid conflict at all costs
- You feel that any criticism or disagreement is an attack on you
- You hit “below the belt” and regret it later
- You feel out of control when conflict arises
- You withdraw and become silent when you’re angry
- You store up complaints from the distant past
At one time or another, we’ve all done or found ourselves doing one or more of these. Mainly, that’s because, conflict can cause discomfort and we’ll use anything in our arsenal to avoid it or find a way to just get through it without actually having come to a resolution.
How to fight fairly
- Remain calm: Nothing is ever accomplished successfully by stressing out or getting more upset. Taking the approach of staying calm during a conflict will help keep it from escalating or going too far.
- Express feelings in words, not actions: In this sense, actions do speak louder than words. If your body language is in conflict with what you’re saying to your partner, an argument is sure to intensify. Remember to relax your body. Don’t tense up, roll your eyes, ball your fists or show any signs that contradicts your words.
- Don’t revisit old conflicts: It’s never a good idea to bring up old arguments, especially if those conflicts were seemingly resolved. No one wins any extra points (or points at all) by bring up old conflicts. This can also make solving the conflict at hand even more difficult, because you may forget what you were even arguing about in the first place.
- Avoid accusations: Never begin an argument by accusing a partner of a wrongdoing. This only serves to put the other person on defense. Defending actions or words doesn’t help get to the root of the issue.
- Avoid staying silent: This might seem like the smart options when a partner is upset about something, but it can be very counterproductive. Staying silent can be misconstrued as insensitivity, which can make the other person feel as though their partner doesn’t care about how they feel. If you feel the need to stay silent, at least let the other person know why you’ve decided to keep quiet for now (e.g., trying to collect your thoughts, trying to keep from saying something you’ll regret, etc.).
Don’t worry. Even if your arguing is causing more serious problems in your relationship, you’re not doomed! Couples therapy can help identify and manage deeper problems, and help couples learn new conflict resolution skills so they can argue better. The truth is, you’re never going to not argue. The ultimate goal is having a disagreement, understanding where the other person is coming from, and moving on.
If you think arguments may be causing more serious problems in your relationship, reach out to a couples therapist sooner than later.
Jennifer Aull is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder and director of North Brooklyn Marriage and Family Therapy. Jennifer brings with her a wealth of life experience. Along with her marriage and family therapy practice, Jennifer serves part-time as a pastor at the Greenpoint Reformed Church. She has also worked as a chaplain in both hospital and hospice settings. These experiences have taught her that life can be a journey toward greater awareness and spiritual growth and that such awareness can bring about deep joy and fulfillment. Read more about Jennifer.