Couple Conflict: Quality of Argument Less Important than Quality of Relationship

The way a couple treats each other outside of their arguments is the best predictor of the couple’s ability to get something positive out of their arguments–even if they’re more heated than they ought to be.  Obviously, no couple likes to argue, but some couples seem to weather it better than others.  Therapists often think that the best way to deal with arguments is to avoid them, but is it possible to help teach couples to not be overwhelmed by bad arguments when they happen–and even be able to get something good from them?

The answer would appear to be “Yes.”  The solution?  Work harder at taking care of each other when you’re not arguing, says a new study from Baylor University.

“People in satisfying relationships resolved their conflicts regardless of whether they used negative communication or not. In contrast, people in unhappy relationships tended to have big conflicts, and they tended to have trouble resolving their conflicts — and this was often true regardless of the type of communication they used.”

To the extent that negative communication played any role, it appeared to be detrimental for resolution, but this effect was mostly negligible, Sanford said.

“A person’s level of relationship satisfaction was, by and large, a much stronger predictor of progress toward conflict resolution,” he said.  READ THE REST HERE.

These findings are consistent what what we teach couples we see in the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s tele-counseling practice.  Of course we work hard to teach couples to adopt more efficient and respectful models of conflict resolution, but I and my associates also expend a lot of effort trying to help couples become “conflict proof”  by focusing on the quality of the couple’s overall relationship.  The reality is that we all have bad days.  No couple is going to be able to mind their p’s and q’s in conflict every time–or even most of the time.  Counseling that focuses exclusively on “fair fighting” strategies is doomed to fail because couples will often forget to use these strategies, at least at first.  Better to take a “both/and” approach that teaches conflict management but also makes the couple more resilient–more able to bounce back from the more volatile arguments that will inevitably happen when the couple forgets the skills they’ve learned in counseling.

The takeaway, of course, is if you want to have better  arguments–or, at least, a better experience of your arguments–the best thing to do might be to put more energy into taking care of each other, making time for each other, and being loving and thoughtful to each other when you’re not in conflict!

To learn more about creating a resilient relationship, check out For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, or  The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples.  And if you need more personal support, don’t hesitate to learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s tele-counseling practice can help you create a stronger, more loving relationship.   We’re here to help you experience the love and peace God has in store for your marriage.


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