Your partner forgets to take the dog out — and there’s now a flood all over the floor. Or you’re about to pay the mortgage when you discover that there are insufficient funds in your account because your spouse decided to spend the money on a big-ticket (and unnecessary) item. Or maybe your sweetie decided to snag the remote and put on a soccer match when you just really want to watch Vanderpump Rules instead. It doesn’t always take much to have a disagreement with your mate, but is it good for couples to argue? Yes … and no, advise the experts.
Everyone has their issues with their significant other, and that’s usually normal for a relationship. But there’s a huge difference between the occasional argument and a full-blown fight, according to David Ezell, LMHC, LPC, Founder and CEO of Darien Wellness, a mental health group in Darien, CT. “I would take issue with the word ‘fights,’” says Ezel. “Fighting infers physical contact (after all, boxers fight). Arguing is what couples need to do if they want to get issues resolved.”
Can Arguing Be Good For A Relationship?
Between Brownie meetings and basketball practices, it’s hard to even have time to breathe, much less spend quality time with your partner. And when tempers are short, it’s easy to have a spat with your spouse. “It is possible for couples to have healthy disagreements that can ultimately strengthen their bond,” says David Tzall, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in New York City. “Conflict can promote communication and it can provide an opportunity for partners to communicate their feelings and concerns openly and honestly.” While you might not equate arguing with intimacy, being candid with your partner can build not just trust in the relationship, but boost problem-solving skills, too.
While effective communication is critical to understanding each other’s needs, you’ll need to be mindful of what comes out of your mouth. After all, stating that you’re upset because your partner never picks up after themselves is one thing, but hitting below the belt is entirely another. “The important part here is how you fight,” Beth Gulotta, LMHC, a therapist specializing in relationships and couples counseling says. “If conflict in your relationship involves harmful behaviors, such as name calling, blaming, or shaming then this will not be helpful or healthy.” That said, if you can both establish some ground rules and understand that your argument is meant to clarify (and not chastise), then it can be beneficial as you seek a resolution for your relationship issues.
How Often Should Couples Argue?
Of course, there isn’t a set number of how many squabbles you should have with your spouse. What’s more important than an amount is when you feel the need to express yourself, even if it results in an argument. “I recommend that when one of the people in the couple feels hurt or wonders what the other person’s actions mean, they bring it up in order to get clarification,” Beth Klein, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist explains. “This prevents making assumptions, which is not helpful in relationships.” Arguments can spark independently, or they might arise when a couple brings up certain issues. The goal, though, is to have fewer arguments as the relationship grows, according to Klein, because as a couple you’ll have (hopefully) learned better communication skills.
What Happens When Couples Don’t Argue?
Some couples pride themselves on never having an argument. And while that might seem like #relationshipgoals, it really isn’t. As it turns out, if you’re arguing too much (or too little), it can be an issue. “Whenever a client tells me she and her partner never argue, alarm bells go off for me!!!” says Alyse Freda-Colon, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker. “All couples fight and if they aren’t, there’s lots that’s being ignored and not being said.” According to Freda-Colon, fighting, arguing, and disagreeing is all completely normal — and important — for a healthy relationship.
“When couples avoid arguments altogether, they may be missing out on the opportunity to address important issues and work through disagreements in a productive way,” adds Tzall. “When couples don’t express their frustrations and concerns in a healthy way, they may start to harbor resentment towards each other.” And instead of solving your issues, you can start feeling distant and disconnected from your partner — and the relationship. Even though you might want to avoid arguing with your spouse, what actually occurs is you miss out on the opportunity to repair smaller issues before they eventually become bigger ones. “Couples avoiding conflict may also feel emotionally unsafe to express things to their partner, they may internalize and hold things in which again creates resentment, all of which erode the relationship and create a disconnect between the partners,” says Gulotta.
So What Are Some Ground Rules For Arguing?
Now that you know that arguing is important for the health of your relationship, you need to understand how to handle yourself during a disagreement. Gulotta offers her ground rules for how to handle those hard conversations with your partner.
- Remember that you love your partner and conflict is an attempt by each partner to feel heard and understood
- Have boundaries aroundfighting, decide the tone, language and/or non-verbal communication that is triggering to each other and decide these are off limits. If you don’t know each other’s triggers, take time to learn and understand them in a time that is peaceful and both partners are in a regulated state.
- Be committed to really listening to your partner and understanding what they are trying to express to you. A great exercise is reflection. Repeat back to your partner what you heard and get confirmation or clarification about what they said and what you heard align. Give each other space to hold the floor and talk. Interruption is always disruptive, so do your best to let each other finish their thought. There is always a real desire to jump in but try and stay patient. Everyone can get their turn to talk.
- Allow space for emotional regulation, if things start to escalate allow for a time to pause and regulate your emotions. Not much said in those moments of escalation will be productive or kind. Decide what that is for each of you. Be in tune with your bodily cues that suggest that you are getting dysregulated — your body will tell you. Communicate this to you are parent and pause to implement a regulation technique, whether that is taking a quick walk, stepping away and listening to music, practicing a breathing exercise, etc.
- Stay on topic. Often, we can bring things up from the past that may feel unresolved but could be irrelevant or hurtful to the current conflict.
- Get curious. If what comes up seems to be a recurring conflict, dig deeper to try and understand the root cause of the argument. A recurringfight about Tupperware is not about Tupperware. Decide that you each want to dig a little deeper and figure out the core issue.
When Should Couples Who Argue Consider Seeking Therapy Or Counseling?
You’re putting away the dishes and discover that there aren’t enough Tupperware lids for your containers — and you get into a shouting match with your spouse. Of course, the problem isn’t about plastic containers, but all of the underlying issues that you haven’t worked out yet. If there are unresolved issues that you’re stuffing down, or your arguments aren’t going anywhere, it might be time to consider counseling. “Couples should consider seeking therapy when they are experiencing problems in their relationship that they are unable to resolve on their own,” advises Tzall. “Sometimes partners get locked into mindsets and can’t work themselves out of it as too many emotions and experiences have come between the two. If communication has broken down and the couple is unable to express themselves effectively or understand each other’s perspectives, it may be helpful to seek counseling.” Therapy, both individually and as a couple, can help you rebuild trust in the relationship so having a therapist working as an impartial mediator can help build better bonds between the two of you.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, arguing is important for any relationship. Not only does it help get things off your chest, but it can resolve conflict and help make your union stronger. What doesn’t work: petty bickering, or fights that become physically or verbally abusive. So the next time you have something important to say to your partner, have the courage to clear the air, because it can actually make your relationship stronger — and happier.
David Ezell, LMHC, LPC, Founder and CEO of Darien Wellness, a mental health group in Darien, CT
David Tzall, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in New York City
Beth Klein, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist
Alyse Freda-Colon, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker
Beth Gulotta, LMHC, a therapist specializing in relationships and couples counseling