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Opinionated and Happy: Why You’ll Never Hear Me Say “We Never Argue” with Pride.  

ID-10090765I thought after last month’s admittedly “heavy” topic, I’d change things up a little bit. This month, I’d like to take the ‘counselor’ hat off, and speak with you simply as “EJ—a 30-something modern woman navigating life, career and a marriage.”

So here’s something I’ve heard used as a measuring stick for healthy relationships on several occasions that I absolutely cannot stand:

“I know I have a good marriage—we’ve been married ‘x’ years and have never once argued.”

In my own experience, I’ve never seen a marriage where this measuring stick was actually a true indicator of health. And for what its worth, Dr. Sarkis at Psychology Today hasn’t either.

Sidenote from Dustin: My good friend Fawn from The Happy Wives Club recently wrote this very popular post sharing this very thing – how she and her husband have never argued.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

In My House, We Debate. And Occasionally We Argue.

Anyone who knows my husband and I can tell you that each one of us came into this relationship with a lot of our own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings on a wide variety of topics. And we do not agree on everything. And some times that disagreement is passionate.

*Gasp*

Of course I am taking a little license with the definition.  As a passionate conversationalist and self-proclaimed opinionated person, I should probably clarify that when I say “argument” I’m referring more to the philosophical definition of stating one’s opinions and laying out  plausible conditions to substantiate one’s claims in an effort to persuade — not verbally taking shots at the other person.  Dr. Sarkis and Fawn from The Happy Wives Club seem to be talking about ‘arguing’ in the sense of a quarrel or what I typically refer as a “fight”.

That being said, every now and then we hit a hot button issue for the other. Sometimes that occurs on a day where everything has gone wrong, nerves are raw and tempers are short. Oops!

Regardless, it makes for some really interesting conversation about just about anything—and believe me—nothing is off the table. We talk about taboo topics—often those things that surface in the news, or even things that we hear about at our respective jobs.

The Benefit

The really useful part about this ritual is that we both get to explore our own beliefs about things with a depth that I really just haven’t been able to find since leaving my beloved Philosophy department in undergrad. Sometimes I find myself surprised, even shocked about where I truly stand on a given topic when it’s given the time and space it needs to be fully flushed out.

The Cost

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that something else that’s also true—sometimes I’ve been shocked, and even disappointed at some of the opinions my husband has shared. On the flip side, my husband has learned some things about me he’s not completely thrilled about too.

It’s not a common occurrence, but there are some issues where we just fundamentally disagree. And yes, I suppose there is an element of risk— “What if I say something and s/he’s just so completely horrified that our relationship is damaged?” (But no more risky than blending your life with another person, and people do that all the time!)

Why We’ll Never Stop:

Well, first off—we held debates with one another from the minute (literally, the minute) we started dating so a lot of BIG topics were covered long before we said “I do.” (Our first debate was over whether or not medication was an appropriate treatment for PTSD.)

Second, if Greg and I aspire to one rule and one rule only—it’s that as long as we’re dealing with the truth, we can handle anything life throws at us. Opinions are neither good nor bad—it’s the actions that flow from those opinions that matter. Oh, and some times that truth includes, “I really don’t feel like doing this [debating] right now.”

Side note: An unwritten rule of our volleys is that we keep the argument focused on the topic, not on each other. The second you make a personal attack on the other person, you’re not arguing any more—you’re fighting. The difference being that in arguments the goal is to effectively present your side, and in fighting the goal is to tear down your opponent. If you’re trying to tear down your spouse—there’s a larger problem at hand.

Third, even though there have been times when debates turned into arguments, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

 Why?

 We’ve become so good at 1) communicating our thoughts, 2) exploring the “why” behind the way we think/feel that fighting rarely happens anymore.

By choosing to “step into the ring” over and over again, we practice healthy discussion with opposing views.   We don’t have to downshift into throwing barbs because our thoughts and feelings aren’t completely dissociated from each other. Just like exercising, thinking and communicating get easier the more you do them.

Fourth, we love each other—and that love includes those very VERY strong opinions!!!

A Word of Caution

Now let me offer you a word of caution: Every relationship is different, and you really need to know who your partner is before you decide to intellectually “throw down” with them. If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear, Greg and I are both hard-hitting, competitive, straight-off-the-shoulder people.

If your spouse isn’t someone who is comfortable with friction—even the healthy debating kind—please understand that an ‘enthusiastic volley’ can feel overly aggressive and hurtful. Accept and respect that it might be very difficult for your spouse to share or put words to a belief about a given topic. Allow them the safety to be who they are. Allow them time to gather their thoughts too.

So tell me…

Do you and your spouse debate? Or does debating almost always lead to unhealthy arguments or fighting?

 

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About E.J. Smith

E.J. Smith is a Nationally Certified Counselor, motivational speaker, writer and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. She is also the face (and mouth) behind SimplyEJ.com. Born in New Jersey, and transplanted to Texas, this self-professed holistic health nut enjoys a wide variety of athletics, reading, and cooking. Raised Catholic and the wife of an active duty Marine, E.J. uses introspection and pragmatism to help readers create loving, fulfilling relationships from the inside out. Follow EJ on Twitter @SimplyEJS

Comments

  1. Bless you for saying this! I’ll speak up and say that it irks me too when some couples imply that good marriages = no arguing. The Gottman Institute of Marriage has discovered that it’s not whether a couple argues that determines marital health, but rather how they argue. Respectful debate and even expressive disagreement can be fine, as long as they don’t descend into personal attacks — just as you say. Moreover, I read a fascinating book years ago from a linguistics researcher who noted that our ways of communication vary across cultures, so that some people are simply more likely to raise their voices and others less so — and that doesn’t mean much without seeing how conflicts are resolved.

    So yeah, we argue in my marriage. And hey, we also make up. *wink, wink* Which is a pretty great way to find something we can both agree on, no matter how the disagreement ended up.

    • You know what’s interesting, J? I’ve actually never heard anyone imply that not arguing equals having a better marriage. I’ve heard the exact opposite quite a bit because there is an assumption that if you’re not arguing you’re suppressing your emotions. Then again, I’m in Los Angeles where pretty much every couple argues so maybe that’s why :).

      • E.J. Smith says:

        Fawn – There could very much be a geographical difference. I grew up in Jersey, but when I think about the folks who’ve said to me, “We have a great marriage, we never argue”– I believe almost all of them came from the Northeast (upstate NY, CT, MA, ME regions) where emotional stoicism may be more valued? There is also a question of “keeping up with the Jones’. ” I wasn’t necessarily in a therapeutic relationship with any of these people, so it’s quite possible that they were lying. The could’ve been fighting like cats and dogs in reality, but wanting to project something different– which of course, begs the question, “Why is arguing from time to time a shameful act that one would need to hide?” And I’m sure we could both write whole books on that one!

        Thank you so much for taking the time to share and comment. I love reading everyone’s thoughts– it’s so stimulating!

    • E.J. Smith says:

      J – First off, sorry it’s taken me a little bit to respond to you. We had a pipe burst in our new home, and it’s been a little chaotic. Anyway, I completely agree with you that culture plays a huge role in how people give and receive not just in disagreements and debates, but also in general. My family is Italian so there are several volumes in what would be (at least to us) considered normal conversation, but could sound like “arguing” to others.

  2. My husband and I recently attended a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference. One of the segments was a “conflict survival guide”. Here’s a bit of the wisdom that was shared:
    Some couples are afraid of what conflict will do to their relationship, so they avoid it. But, conflict avoidance = intimacy avoidance. Conflict is neither good or bad — it’s how we handle it that makes it positive or negative. Conflict is actually a stewardship issue. It’s as if God says, “Here’s a disagreement. How will you handle it? Will you bring honor and glory to Me?” It’s how the couple resolves conflict that reflects the state of their oneness. It says a lot about their connection with each other.

    • E.J. Smith says:

      Christie — I love that piece about conflict avoidance = intimacy avoidance!!! That is so true (or at least it is for me). There’s a level of vulnerability that comes along with expressing opinions. I really like the idea of nesting relationship conflict inside of stewardship, as if to say “Can you disagree and be authentic and true to yourself while taking care of the person that you have vowed to love and respect?”

      Sounds like you had a great experience.

  3. I love your post title because that “with pride,” is the key. We all have to rue to ourselves and our relationships and the reality is that some couples don’t argue. And some do. And one is not better than the other. We’re all so different and anyone using a measuring stick -in any area- is in for a disappointment…always. It took me 4 years of writing on my blog to admit my husband and I had never argued. And quite frankly, if I hadn’t let it slip in an interview, I probably would have never mentioned it. Mainly, because I know others will use it as a measuring stick and that’s not healthy. And I didn’t want it to come across as boasting, as it made me more uncomfortable to admit it than any other topic I’ve written on (and the crazy part is I owe a book to my publisher on this very topic next week – eek). Keith and I have never argued but we have most certainly agreed to disagree on many, many occasions. Here’s our take on it: ALWAYS say what you mean…just don’t say it mean. But if it’s between saying what is on your mind and getting into an argument or sweeping something under the rug and pretending as though all is well, I’d probably say arguing is the better option because hurt that goes unaddressed is the worst hurt of all. That’s my take…but I’m in no way an expert.

    • Hmmm…not sure what happened with that word “rue” but it was supposed to say “be true.” :)

    • E.J. Smith says:

      “ALWAYS say what you mean…just don’t say it mean.” — I’m definitely going to be using this phrase in the future! That is such a good rule to follow.

      I want to thank you so much for sharing the flip side of this issue. I’m so glad Dustin added the link to your work because it really is about finding out what is real and authentic for each person and couple. When I was studying counseling, I remember being slightly taken a back when I got into my couples/marriage therapy course and saw that there was no generally accepted standard protocol, but rather an abundance of philosophies. The abundance of philosophy is true for individual counseling as well, but the profession generally recognizes certain types of treatment for certain issues– and that wasn’t quite the case with relationship counseling.

      For Greg and I? If we ever stopped ‘battling wits’, it would be a BIG, honking, flashing neon sign that something was very VERY wrong.

      Lastly: Another book! That is phenomenal. I will have to make sure I’m following you on Twitter to stay updated!

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