Fighting the Good Fight

Why arguments that build understanding, not strife, are good for your relationship.
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Clash of the Couples

When Meg and Brett used to fight, the tension was so thick that it frequently took two days for them to recover. "At the time of the fight it felt good to let every thought and emotion fly, but a day or two later when the other person was still damaged and hurt, you wished you could take everything back," says Meg, 32, from Boston.

After one particularly harrowing battle, they realized it wasn't worth it and decided on a strategy to keep their fights more sane: whoever was the least upset would stop arguing and start listening. "So if Brett was hysterical, I would basically agree to work through his point of view on the topic. And if I was the one who was insane, he'd agree not to try to prove that his point of view was the right one," says Meg. After the emotions simmered down, usually a day later, the other person would explain their side of the story.

Meg and Brett discovered key principle of a happy marriage: Fighting to win gets you nowhere. The purpose of a "good" fight is to build mutual understanding and come to a resolution that suits both parties. "The key question to ask yourself after a fight is, 'Do we feel closer or more distant?'" says Pat Love, EdD, and author of The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make It Last Forever (Fireside, 2001). "An argument isn't productive if it makes you feel more distant."

But fighting well is not the same as the same as "being nice." According to research by University of Washington psychologist John Gottman, PhD, who has studied married couples for 30 years, couples in healthy relationships often show anger in arguments. However, they don't lace their frustration with criticism or contempt for their mate. They also don't stonewall -- which often comes in the form of a seemingly peaceful gesture. Rachel, 43, from New York City, frequently feels this when her boyfriend apologizes to her. "He'll apologize to me when he sees that I'm upset, but he doesn't know why I'm upset. So he says 'I'm sorry' but he's not really sorry. He just wants me to shut up," says Rachel.

Continued on page 2:  10 Tips for Better Battles

 

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