How Should Couples Argue?

spinsight Counseling, Couples Therapy, Dr. Pam Wright, General Psychology
Marriage Counseling Series at The Life Change Group, written by Dr. Pam Wright, mental health expert. How should couples argue properly

Is there a Right Way to Argue with Your Spouse?

Couples argue all the time, but how should couples argue properly? Is there a right and a wrong way for couples to fight. Studies suggest that fewer than 3% of couples don't argue, so it is a very common occurrence in American marriages. What are the ground rules for arguments, disagreements and shouting matches (is the latter even allowed)?

It Depends on Your Type

John and Julie Gottman are renowned marriage counselors and have created a proven method to help couples regain their connection. Their method allows them to help predict with significant accuracy if a couple will make it long-term. A key to their marriage counseling philosophy is learning how to communicate better, and this involves how to argue the right way. The Gottman's posit that there are 5 types of couples:

  1. Conflict Avoiders: As the name implies, these couples steer clear of conflict and focus on areas of common ground while celebrating their relationship for generally being happy. Yelling is typically out of character for them.
  2. Volatile Couples: Conversely, this intensely emotional couple type loves to debate and argue, but they can yell at each other constructively. These types of couples have the rare ability to emphasize connection and honesty while they argue, and still lead a passionate love life.
  3. Validating couples: This couple type is somewhat in the middle of Avoiders and Volatile. They do emphasize supporting and understanding their partner's points of view, and are often empathetic. Still, they can be competitive on some issues which can lead to power struggles.
  4. Hostile couples: This couple type demonstrates a lot of criticism, defensiveness, and contempt by using absolute statements in their arguments - "you always" and "you never" are common in their vocabulary. Each partner strives to reiterate their perspective and not understand or empathize.
  5. Hostile-Detached Couples: This couple type is often focused on winning the argument but often just end up in a frustrating and lonely standoff. Yelling may often feel like second-nature for them. These couples rarely regulate their negativity so it just festers and rots the relationship from the inside out.

Love is saying "I feel differently" instead of "you're wrong"

Mismatched Types

What happens when you're both not in the same couple type? Are you doomed from "I do"? Not at all. The idea that matched styles would be superior to mismatched styles showed mixed validity in testing of this method. However, it is interesting to note that recent studies have shown that the "Validating" couples type is key. When individuals rate at least one person as validating this may insulate these couples from lower relationship quality.

Final Thoughts From Dr. Pam Wright

The Gottman Method is just one of a myriad of frameworks to help couples and marriage counselors guide partners on re-igniting relationships and becoming stronger couples. Every couple is different in their unique ways of relating, emoting and being together. The key to any of these models and stepped processes is being willing to do the work and focus on building the relationship. There has to be an openness and willingness to change, and more importantly to doing it together. That's the type of couple that we should all aspire to become.