Pathways to Wellness

conversation • connection • commitment


It is very difficult to be in a relationship and not argue sometimes.  Disagreement and arguments are a fact of life. 

How you work out your disagreements can affect your children.  Loud voices, shouting, threatening behaviour and physical fighting frighten children, and in young children actually change the way the brain develops if the fighting happens often, and children are not comforted. See Brain Science – Stress and the developing brain.

The issue is learning how to fight so that you can resolve the disagreement without losing control.  Psychologist John Gottman has spent his professional life studying couples.  He can predict with greater than 90% accuracy whether newlyweds will still be married in 5 years by the way they act during an argument.  Couples who stay together argue in more constructive, more loving ways.  They do this by:

  1. Using a "soft start" – instead of blasting your partner with what you are angry about, start off more tentatively, as you would start off a conversation with your parent, a best friend or a co-worker.  Use the same courtesy and desire to maintain the relationship with your partner.
  2. Express your unhappiness as a complaint, not a criticism.  

    A complaint is a description of your partner's behaviour or actions that annoyed or angered you.  

    By contrast, a criticism is a negative comment about your partner's character.  
  3. Show interest in what your partner is saying.  It's hard, really hard but ask questions, and say things like "tell me more..." or "I'm interested in what you are saying..."  Remember your goal is to maintain the good will in your relationship, not win the fight. Being open to what your partner is saying will help you work towards a solution.
  4. Stay calm.  When we are angry, the fight-or-flight response gets triggered and heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure all go up.  When we are in this state of heightened arousal, it is difficult to stay focused, think straight and solve problems.  Do what you need to do to get your arousal back down to normal.  For some people, meditation may help; other people may need to go for a run.  It's better to postpone the argument by taking a time-out to calm down, than to go into the argument all geared up.  This is particularly important for men to keep in mind – men often experience higher levels of arousal for longer periods of time.
  5. Look for compromise.  It's easier to get to a compromise if you agree with some part of the complaint (even if it's a very small part).  This opens you, and your partner, up to looking for a solution which works for both of you.


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