Each intimate partner’s unique worldview is shaped by their past and current life experiences. In an attempt to convince their spouse to see the world through their own individual lens, couples will engage in arguments. Arguments are healthy exchanges of thoughts and ideas that are driven by each partner’s level of passion for the topic being debated. When both partners take turns speaking and listening, arguments become healthy persuasive conversations that couples use to settle disputes, make joint decisions, and express their point of view regarding a particular subject matter. Arguments become problematic when partners disable their ability to hear each other. When this happens, couples transition from arguing to fighting. A fight is intended to produce a loser and a winner. The main goal of an argument is to identify a mutual intersection where both partners thoughts, feelings, and ideas can cross over. Once each partner has respectfully expressed themselves, the couple can move forward with creating one harmonious perspective the relationship can adopt. When a partner approaches an argument with the intention of winning or beating their spouse, then they are engaging in a fight. Arguments are designed to produce resolutions that pull intimate partners together through speaking and listening to one another’s worldviews. Tone is the main factor to be aware of that causes couples to stop hearing each other during arguments. Every part of the argument or persuasive conversation is important, but the startup holds the most value because it sets the tone for how the discussion will play out. Tone is impacted by the attitude each partner brings into the conversation and influences the volume used to transmit verbal messages. Healthy arguments start when partners communicate in a tone that pulls their spouse in and creates a desire to engage. Partners who are calm and reflect tones that invite their spouse in make it easier to start the argument in a non-combative fashion. The opposite would be true for partners that have an aggressive and demanding approach that makes their spouse become defensive at the start of the argument. Good tone has to be coupled with good timing that activates arguments that conclude with each spouse feeling heard. Finding the right time to engage in an argument is important because partners may need to prepare themselves to listen.
How Therapy Helps
Couples will seek therapy because they do not know how to argue without transitioning the dialogue into a fight. Fights are more likely to develop when the couple loses sight of purpose or forget why they began the argument to start with. At this point they are then driven by heightened emotions and start to hurt each other. These exchanges quickly develop when either partner feels attacked during the conversation. When partners feel attacked, they will automatically start to defend themselves. Defensiveness looks like shooting back insults, placing blame, or shutting down and refusing to engage. These behavior responses are taught through observations and past experiences. In therapy couples process how they were introduced to fighting and what steps they need to apply in order to rewire any of their faulty training. Several intimate partners are taught at an early age that if someone hits them, they should hit them back. The problem with this methodology is that when we form intimate relationships this eye for an eye approach produces two people that can no longer see. Couples become blinded by anger, pain, and rage. These negative emotions drive couples to hurting each other which goes against the premise of establishing a healthy intimate relationship. Therapist can help couples identify when they start to feel attacked during an argument and how to express their feelings, so their partner is aware. This is done through a verity of techniques that allow couples to revisit their arrangements in the control setting of a therapy room. This approach is similar to how an athlete watches game footage to see what mistakes they made so they can correct the actions during the next game. Therapy helps partners with processing their arguments so they can practice having persuasive conversations that sustain respect and conclude with resolutions. Partners have to learn each other’s triggers and make a choice to not purposefully hurt each other when they argue their thoughts, feelings, or emotions.
The Four T’s of Arguments Between Intimate Partners
- Timing- The moment when partners become triggered by an activating event, thought, or emotion that leads to the start of an argument despite the setting or environment.
- Tone- The attitudes and communication styles projected and received by partners who engage in planed and unplanned arguments, emotionally charged dialogs, or conversations.
- Topic- The subject, event, need, want, or noun that provoked some emotion, thought, or belief within one or both partners the argument originated from or stems around.
- Triumph- The conclusion of the argument which can be a solution, resolution, compromise, or a result that leads both partners toward adopting a joint perspective on how they will move forward together in the relationship.
Written by Chris A. Matthews, LMFT