Healthy Argument

unhappy couple having an argument at home

To argue or not to argue is the question faced by many couples. For the sake of clarity, I will call my fictional, but all too real couple, Jim and Jean.  Jean is convinced that every disagreement, no matter how minor must be resolved, and she can’t drop the subject or go to sleep until it is. With issues large or small, she’s like a dog with a bone, seemingly never letting anything go. 

Jim, on the other hand, just wants peace. He’s certain it’s better not to say anything. The best time to have an argument is never. After all, he knows Jean will say what she wants to say and do what she wants to do. So why bother to say what he thinks or feels?

Since Jim is not saying anything, Jean assumes she knows what he’s thinking and reacts to her assumptions. First, she tries to fix things and when that doesn’t work she resorts to criticism, leaving Jim feeling attacked. 

In the meantime, anger is building for both of them. Until one day Jim is fed up, can’t stand to listen to another word, and his unvoiced feelings explode in a torrent of rage. Naturally, instead of listening, Jean defends herself and the fight is on. The ensuing battle accomplishes no good purpose but leaves them both emotionally battered and bruised. 

It is a dance repeated over and over during their years together. Each argument creates a bit more distance and adds layers of self-protective emotional armor. Until one day Jean and Jim find themselves at opposite ends of their house barely able to be in the same room. 

Jean is ready to walk away, sure that Jim is never going to change, feeling that their marriage is a meaningless, empty shell. Jim, desperate to save the relationship, has done an about-face. Now he is the one pursuing every angle, following every lead, searching for a way to convince Jean that he does care, that he can change, that he has always loved her and always will.

Rather than welcoming Jim’s unprecedented attention, Jean views it as too little, too late, sure that any positive change Jim makes won’t last. After all, there have been times in the past when Jean floated the D word and Jim tried to please her—for a week or two—before things went back to normal.

Is there hope for Jim and Jean’s marriage? Absolutely, if both are willing to work at it. Strengthening their bond will require Jim to be willing to risk speaking up while Jean’s challenge will be to back off the criticism and listen to what Jim has to say. 

They must mutually change the steps of their dance. Jean will learn to trust Jim’s sincerity as he responds to her concerns. Jim will begin to express his thoughts and feelings when Jean considers his point of view.

When Jim overcomes his anxiety and takes a step toward Jean—against all her instincts—she must stop and listen. When she understands where Jim is coming from, she can take a step toward him by stating her opinion rather than criticizing. Perhaps Jim will take a step toward Jean with a counteroffer or another idea. It is crucial that each has a voice and considers the other’s point of view.

As they moved away from each other one disagreement at a time, they can reverse course and move toward each other a step at a time. Presently, the distance between them will shorten and they can pivot toward compromise, and agree to disagree without the usual anger. Not that emotion is lacking, but that Jim can accept Jean’s strong feelings and Jean can accept Jim’s desire for peace. And both can choose to say what they need to say in a way that is respectful of the other.  

Disagreements are bound to happen in any relationship. Respectful arguments will go a long way to keep communication going while building trust and understanding. 

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