By Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP
The divorce rate hovers at around 50 percent which, I contend, is a national tragedy. A major reason for this statistic is that most couples have not learned how to settle their issues.
5 Ways to Argue Constructively With Your Partner
1) “Discussions” are necessary for any relationship to allow it to grow but the process must be constructive. Destructive arguing consists of raised voices, demeaning, and discounting. Destructive arguing leads to resentment and ongoing issues which never end. With constructive arguing, the goal is resolution or compromise—not finding a winner or a loser.
2) Most marital spats are spontaneous—where one party is upset and the other party is caught off guard. Resolution is rarely achieved in these “ambush” arguments. Couples should make an appointment to discuss an issue.
3) During a scheduled discussion one–and only one–issue should be dealt with at a time. When most couples argue usually within seconds every other issue the couple has gets dumped into the conversation. The resolution then is impossible. No “side-tracking” (getting off the issue); no “bombs” (making an inflammatory comment); and no “digging up the museum” (bringing up an old sore issue) should be allowed. Each partner must strive to speak only about the circumscribed issue until it is resolved.
4) It is easier to settle issues when couples learn to speak concretely. The questions that need to be considered are: “What does it look like? What would I see?” For example, if the wife tells the husband she would like him to be “more affectionate,” the husband should not respond, “You don’t know what you are talking about, I’ m as affectionate as the next guy.” The husband should instead say, “Dear if I were more affectionate, what would it look like? What would we see?” The wife, then, could answer with whatever behavior she would view as affectionate—hold her hand, write her a love note, bring flowers, bathe the baby, rub her back, fix the sink, arrange a date (including securing the babysitter), etc.
5) For most couples arguing entails over-shouting, interrupting, and negative body language. If one party is silent, they are typically not listening to their partner but are focused on their response as soon as they can get a word in edgewise. The paraphrase technique involves having one partner state their position for no more than 60 seconds while the other partner quietly listens. At the end of the minute, before the second partner can offer their rebuttal, they must first paraphrase their partner’s position. This forces the partner to really “hear.” Once they stated their partner’s view, then they get their 60 seconds and the other partner then must listen and paraphrase.
Couples who adopt these five rules quickly learn that their discussions can be constructive, issues can be resolved, and their relationship can flourish.
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a recently semi-retired licensed psychologist who practiced in Phoenix for nearly 40 years. He worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provided forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He speaks professionally to the public, educators, attorneys, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department at Northern Arizona University.
He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him but Can’t Live with Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” “Too Busy Earning a Living to Earn Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals,” and “Overcoming Your Negotiaphobia: Negotiating Through Your Life.” TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.