One of the issues that comes up in couples counseling often is arguing. Actually, as a psychologist who works with couples, I see arguing every day. Sometimes I have to help couples realize that it is okay to argue, and what is important is how you argue.
In fact, some of the most difficult couples to help can be the ones that don’t/won’t argue. Conflicts happen and being able to deal with them and work them through is what is crucial for change to occur. Dealing with conflict and working through to a resolution in couples counseling is what helps a couple to feel good about the relationship (and their arguing). Every couple I’ve worked with who struggled with arguing did not like it: it was not productive, and that was at least part of why they had come to see me.
One of the goals of couples counseling can be to help the people in the relationship argue better, that is, to deal with their conflicts better and to reach some type of resolution with each other. There are at least a couple of ways to attack this: to decrease ineffective aspects or arguing and/or to increase agreement.
There are many ways couples argue ineffectively – here are a few:
The list could go on, but let’s look at these four.
Name calling inflames most arguments and does not lead to resolution.
People, often not knowing it, will change the topic of the argument. In fact, as I sit and watch couples argue, they will often change the topic numerous times and not realize how much they are getting in their own way by doing so.
When I watch two people in couples counseling argue poorly, I usually see each side doing a lot of blaming and how little they are hearing what the other is saying.
And it is usually not helpful to talk about how someone else sees it just like you do – I regularly hear one side saying that “all the children agree with me” or something like that.
So, in marital therapy and couples counseling, I will, at times, point out arguing weaknesses as well as move to help the couple to figure out what they are really trying to get to, what they are each trying to point out.
To put a different spin on this, you could work to change your relationship by arguing better: don’t use name calling, stay on one topic at a time, listen more carefully, and stick to your point (you are bringing it up, that is good enough—bringing in others usually increases defensiveness).
Working to a resolution needs to be one of your focuses when you argue, when you are trying to resolve conflict. Watch for more on this in an upcoming post.
Meanwhile, keep growing your relationships!