Is Arguing Bad For a Marriage?

Author:
Sharon May, Ph.D. and Alan Hart


"I didn't expect us to argue when we got married," is a statement we have heard many couples say during our Safe Haven Marriage intensives. Unrealistically, couples often believe that to 'not argue' is a sign of a happy marriage. Actually, 'not arguing' is not an ingredient of a healthy marriage. Research has found that 'not talking' is hurtful to a marriage.

When a couple progressively stops sharing their views, hurts and longings, they slowly disconnect. They no longer know what the other is genuinely feeling, thinking or needing. Friendship erodes. Eventually they drift apart. Then they are less likely to turn toward each other for support.

To be emotionally disconnected from your spouse is lonely and painful. And to make it work, couples begin to live parallel lives. Side-by-side, but not connected. It's good to try to talk through any issues in your marriage, but it is often the way you talk, or argue, that can be damaging.

Most couples discover that it doesn't necessarily take much to start an argument. It's often triggered by a difference of opinion around everyday situations such as how to load the dishwasher, or whether or not it was okay to answer a text during date night. Both partners try to convince the other that their way of seeing the situation or doing something is better. As the saying goes, "I am not arguing, I am just passionately telling you why I am right."

When a 'discussion' gets heated, one or both talk louder and harsher, and eventually feelings are hurt. John Gottman's research shows that conversations turn destructive when they are filled with criticism ("What's wrong with you for doing that?"), defensiveness ("You are the one with the problem, not me"), or contempt (name calling, rolling of eyes in disgust, or sarcastically mimicking the other). When the argument goes nowhere, each pull away.

Arguing can be healthy when it consists of a respectful and considerate exchange of views, opinions, hurts, complaints, longings or requests for change. In this way, you are able to share with your spouse how you enjoy helping with dishes, but how you feel hurt when always provided with a "better" way to load the dishwasher. Or why you feel soda is not good for your toddler and how you'd like to come up with a better option together. Or how you are longing for closeness and the constant checking of phones is distracting during date nights.

During good, deep conversations, you and your spouse can get to know one another better and understand the other's perspective and hurt. And as you talk (or argue constructively), you are more likely to come up with a solution that is best for the 'us.' Or… you might agree to disagree, or realize you both need to find another time to discuss things further. Taking on the issues is important—if you can do so in a kind and considerate way.

Having productive conversations with your spouse is vitally important for a good marriage. It is the heart of God for you and your spouse to share your views, hurts, complaints and longings in a way that is kind and respectful. And in doing so, you will both be heard and understood.

  "Do everything without grumbling or arguing"
-Philippians 2:14

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
-Romans 12:18

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