The greatest arguments lead to the deepest connections. Tell us about a great “fight” that you had that brought you closer to someone you love.
Thanks for starting this thread, Laney. I’m having a little disclosure inhibition, so I’m going to pass on sharing the details regarding a “great fight,” but I will say that I have found that conflict – whether in the form of arguing, bickering, or simply disagreement – does often lead to deeper connections. Arguments, particularly when done with skill, can serve as a catalyst for authentic communication, where important thoughts and feelings that may have been buried, get brought into the open. This opening and greater understanding of one another brings people closer.
Since conflict is an inevitable part of life (and actually an absence of conflict can sometimes indicate a lack of intimacy in a relationship), my motto is to “argue gracefully.” At its most basic level, this involves communicating with respect. If you stick with that – which is easier said than done – arguments will go well.
Couples therapy expert John Gottman has studied hundreds of couples over the years and can pretty accurately predict the viability of a relationship based on how they argue. For example, relationships are apt to fail when communications are filled with the following characteristics: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (emotional withdrawal from the interaction). This probably isn’t a surprise to most people, yet it can still be so easy to fall into the trap of acting defensively or withdrawing emotionally when conflict arises.
Gottman’s research indicates that successful couples (i.e., those that are in stable relationships) have at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, something that’s referred to as “Positive Sentiment Override.” And, whether couples have volatile or validating arguments, or even if they’re conflict avoidant, as long as they have this ratio where overall, the good feelings and interactions outweigh the bad – then they’re more apt to have a successful relationship.
Do you have more thoughts to share on this subject?
I’m really happy to add my two cents here–My husband and I have been together for 13 years and one of the very first rules we made was about arguments: No cussing. That means no name calling and no use of language in the depiction of your feelings because all it did was raise temperature. That extends to no dramatic yelling, throwing, breaking things, etc. Of course, if you were just talking about yourself, then it was fine to vent in whatever way you felt like.
This rule has stood the test of time and neither of us has ever broken it. We are respectful of each other, even during the blow outs, and we’ve had a couple. I can recall previous relationships that fell apart quickly after arguments turned nasty and I didn’t want to repeat those experiences.
My husband and I do little fist bumps after a good fight where no one gets knocked down or dragged out. It feels really good to be a grown up sometimes.
Megan, I like that you and your husband established “ground rules”. These seem to make all the difference. Years ago, I trained with Peter Pearson at the Couples Institute to learn better techniques for helping couples in therapy. Being in a fight is one thing, but trying to help couple’s work through a difficulty is an entirely different animal. Especially when there is yelling, cussing, and disrespect. The ground rules at least help with getting to a place where partners can actually listen to what the other is saying. During the training, there was this little square that couples got to hold. It was called “the floor”. Whoever had the floor was allowed to speak and if you did not have the floor you had to listen carefully. You had to actively listen because you had to paraphrase what your partner said before saying anything yourself. Wow. Was it hard for partners to sit and listen before they had the floor. The active listening necessary to being able to paraphrase meant one REALLY had to be listening. I practiced this at home with my husband and after getting over the initial uncomfortable giggles, we realized how often we do not listen to one another at all when we are angry. I’d encourage every couple who values their communication to make a “floor” and establish some ground rules for arguing so that they can be honest with each other and “fight” without falling out.
On a more personal note, I asked about valuable arguments others have had because I have never found confrontation disappointing. I always learn and grow from it, and rarely feel worse after expressing my feelings, especially to my husband.
The most valuable argument we have (notice the present tense) is about time. While I aim to be early or on time, my husband is frequently late, for everything except work. When the rest of the family is dressed and ready to leave the house, he is just jumping into the shower, trying to convince me that there is still plenty of time. When he used to take the ferry to work, he would leave just enough time to screech his car into a parking space (literally-screeeeech) and run, briefcase in hand, to catch the ferry before it left the dock. Since this kind of behavior would give me heart palpitations, and therefore I would never do it, I find it humorous when he does it. But it is a different story when we are going out together and end up running late. Naturally, we have argued about this. But only through arguing have we realized that time means something so different to us. My husband does not want to waste a single minute. He sees time as limited and valuable and wants to use all of it for productive activity, not waiting around on the dock for some ferry! I, on the other hand, feel that being late is incredibly rude and work hard not to offend anybody by being late. I also envision the consequences, worrying about missing the train, missing the show, making a friend upset. It’s not that my husband doesn’t think about these consequences, but he is determined to use his time to the fullest. After truly understanding this have I stopped projecting onto him that my feelings about being on time are the same as his. It is not that he is trying to be disrespectful, he is just trying to use his time well. And that makes it not about me. And not taking it personally makes all the difference.
Wow, what a great idea to experiment with the “floor”. I would like to try that out in my personal life. I think it could be incredibly challenging but potentially create great opening. I do agree that in order for there to be intimacy, there must be conflict. And conflict with some form of resolution. I’d like to think about this within a cultural context, as conflict is not always welcome nor productive in certain families and/or other cultures. Having a “great” fight with someone from a more “polite” culture where direct confrontation is seen as inappropriate might have a very different and very disappointing experience. It seems that in order for the fight to be “great”, those engaging in the conflict would need to both be willing participants and in agreement about the ground rules that would allow for the confrontation to be safe (enough). So, fighting with a partner who is committed to you and your relationship seems most likely to yield positive results, but what about entering into conflict with a mother in-law, your own parents, a boss, or a neighbor–all people we may love, but may not have the same understanding about what it means to be close?
It seems that most issues can be resolved by listening, not overreacting, thinking things through or in the case of extreme craziness, leaving the situation but not burning bridges. I, however, am not good at any of these things when I am angry or provoked. I have found that the best thing I can do for myself or anyone else involved in a serious argument with me is to take a breather, walk it off and try to approach it more delicately in the future.
I used to fight with my dad a lot. He has a terrible temper and when he gets mad he goes ballistic, forgets all rules of combat and goes for the jugular. My reaction is always the same, total disintegration. No matter how good I am at relating to my husband and our very coordinated and sportsman-like arguing, I drop right back into old behavior patterns when the person I am arguing with is behaving badly. This is something I would like to get better at, learning to let the other person do whatever it is they do without getting sucked into it. Learning to watch from a distance rather then feeling the kick in the gut and reacting immediately.
To respond to the original question, a great argument that brought me closer to someone…in junior high there was someone I didn’t get along with. Then, after an intense yelling match, we became friends. I’m still not sure what exactly can explain the shift. I only know that a dog growls at the things it fears. Perhaps we were scared of each other and/or ourselves, and having it out with an argument led us to the realization, if only subconsciously, that each of our aggressions were not actually capable of harming ourselves or the other, thus the fear of each other was reduced and the “growling” subsided to the extent that we could be friends.
Or it could have even been the opposite, that we garnered respect in each other by establishing that we were willing to defend ourselves.
A third more simple explanation is that there was a buildup of aggressive tension between us, and having the argument simply released that tension.
At any rate, it was an argument that brought us closer together. Certainly though, arguments can just as often create distance or even a falling-out between two people…for example if one or both of the egos involved sustain a “narcissistic injury” (e.g. shaming) that is temporarily or permanently beyond repair. At times, being able to “agree to disagree” with someone can really save a relationship, allowing the two to interact with each other in a “good enough” kind of way. Some of my thoughts.
I would love to be able to get my husband to stick to rules when we fight, unfortunately he always says “There’s no rules in fighting” and we are both so hot headed when we disagree that we purposely push eachothers buttons just to egg the other on, and it all just escalates from there …. pretty much we get everything off of our chest and do it in a very unkind way. which never solves anything, and we end up in another argument about the same thing either later that day or the next few days. and it seems like everytime we fight it is about the same thing….I can tell him what is bothering me till I am blue in the face, and I feel like I just get ignored and not heard when I say my peace because he will turn around and do the exact thing that I just told him I hated….I love him though and we have been together about 10 years now, married for 8 and we have been through more things as a couple than most couples have to endure their entire marriage, so we have a lot of stress on our plate most of the time. So I don’t want to leave him, but I think he provokes me a lot because he thinks he can do and say whatever he wants to to me because no matter what I would never leave him, I wonder what would happen if I just left when he said for me to get away from him and never showed back up… at least for a day or two. and if I didn’t answer the phone for him, he wouldn’t know where I was or what I was doing…. I think he would go crazy worrying about me. the tables would be turned for once..lololol.
Hi Typhanie, thanks for showing courage in sharing your struggles. Relationships are one of the most challenging (and potentially rewarding) parts of life! Stress certainly takes a toll on any marriage, especially if it’s chronic — it sounds like you two have showed a lot of resilience over the years. We can all use more support, whether through friends, family members or professional relationships, such as with a therapist or spiritual counselor. Speaking with your primary care doctor can be a great place to start when it comes to finding an experienced couples therapist who could help with your difficulties.
You may also want to check out these resources that you could explore with your husband:
Communication Tips for Couples (an overview of best practices for couples communication, much of which is based on work on renowned couples therapists Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Julie).
https://www.gottman.com/couples/ – here’s a link to the resources from their work (books, DVDs, etc).
Take good care and all the best to you.
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