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