You will never argue your way to a better marriage, but you can end the arguing and create a better relationship with your spouse.
Did your parents try to fix relationship problems by arguing? If so, you are also likely to argue with your spouse. We learn to do what we see others doing, even when those things are destructive.
It’s not that we are just recorders playing back what we learned. It’s that we weren’t exposed to the right way to handle differences, so didn’t learn any other way.
Well, now is your chance! You can learn how to do something other than arguing. You will need to be able to do things that don’t feel natural and fight the temptation to be genuine.
“Just be yourself” is the worst growth advice you could ever follow
You argue with your spouse because you are just being yourself. And, look where that is getting you! To do better we need to work to become the person we want to be rather than staying just like we are.
Most counselors want you to feel good about yourself. Coaches want you to become someone better.
The only way to be genuine is to never change. All growth and learning requires doing things that feel unnatural until they become natural.
Going to school, your first date, starting your job, and every other thing that has helped you to succeed were all unnatural at first. And tough! Though you may not remember that they were. No one who has ever gotten in shape at a gym felt it was natural or easy to begin working out, but once they got in shape, they were glad they did.
When you learn what to do instead of arguing, it will be tough at first, get easier as you progress, and you will end up being glad you did.
No one ever regrets having learned to do something better.
Let’s start by uncovering the truth about arguing
Arguing is one of the most socially repulsive things we can do. Do you think that arguing would be a good way to make a new friend? Would it be a good thing to do on a first date? Would it be good to put in a dating profile that you like to argue? Would it be a compliment if your friends told others that you are good at arguing?
The truth is, arguing is stressful, makes people feel like they are different from each other, leads to distance and breakups. It is the social equivalent of having dog crap on your shoe.
The more you argue, the worse your relationship will become. Putting even more dog crap on your shoe is not going to make you more appealing. There never will come a point where it pays off.
“I argued with my spouse repeatedly until we finally had a good relationship.”–Said by NOBODY.
How about debating?
Debating is less damaging than arguing, but does not result in resolving problems or building relationships. In a debate, each person presents their viewpoint along with reasoning, examples, and evidence, if they have any. While one person speaks, the other is forming a rebuttal to the other person’s point. The end result is the same as arguing–each person becomes more convinced of their own views and the relationship becomes more polarized.
Another outcome is also possible. One person may become overwhelmed with the other person’s examples and reasoning and be proved to be obviously wrong. The impact of this on the relationship is emotional shutting down and decreased communication. Proving someone wrong may feel like a victory, but do it enough and you won’t have a relationship anymore.
There is a place for debate in education and public policy, but it does not belong in our marriage.
Argument power plays that make relationships worse even faster
Threatening to divorce or break up
All threats break trust and cause emotional distance. And, if you make a threat and don’t follow through on it, you also lose respect. Less trust, emotional distance, and loss of respect will lead to the thing you threatened–an end to your relationship.
The screeching monkey tactic
The monkey which screeches the loudest may win simply because the other monkeys are afraid of his or her going berserk. For people who have partners that do the screeching monkey, they will know exactly what I am talking about. People want to get away, physically and emotionally, from someone who does this.
The laundry list approach to arguing
Some people keep a record of their partner’s wrongs. Then, if their ideas or behaviors are challenged, they bring out the list of the other person’s wrongs to deflect the conversation away from themselves. Some people do this immediately when challenged. Others will argue first and then bring out the list if the other person isn’t backing down. Emotional distance and loss of love result. Nothing good will ever come of reminding people of their past mistakes.
What does God have to say about this?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians: 13: 4-5.
I agree that it is sometimes necessary to walk away rather than to cause or allow more damage to be done. However, when the walking away becomes staying away, that is when it is called withdrawal. Withdraw enough and you will have no arguments. But you won’t have any relationship either. You will become roommates.
Learning to argue is not the remedy for withdrawing. The remedy is learning how to deal with problems effectively.
You have to give up on the idea that it is ever good to argue if you want to do something better. Changing attitudes and beliefs are important components of changing behaviors.
There is no such thing as winning an argument in relationships. There is no winning for anyone when we do something harmful.
If you are ever in doub t about whether you should do something, ask God first. Regardless of what people are saying, God is just never going to tell you that arguing is the way to go.
Ending arguing does not mean being submissive or passive
I don’t teach my clients to submit, make apologies or to make promises to avoid arguing. While you can appease an argumentative spouse this way in the short term, it will encourage more and more controlling behavior from your spouse. The end result will be a worse relationship for both of you.
But doesn’t the Bible tell us that we are to submit to each other?
Yes indeed. The Bible tells us that we are to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21) and to submit to authority (Romans 13:1). It also teaches we are first and foremost to submit to God (James 4:7). These submission commandments confuse many people because these three sources may want different things from us.
Long story short, we are to submit to others who are submitting to God. But, someone wanting us to do something other than God’s will does not get our submission. That is why the early Christians died for not submitting to Roman authority.
Many Christians today are being persecuted for the same reason. So, don’t be fooled into just giving into your your spouse’s demands for submission. That doesn’t mean that we should fight, however.
If anyone wants you to do what God wants, simply do it. For sure you will never win an argument with God and your explanations are not going to change His mind!
How to stop arguing and have better relationships, without giving in
1 Give up your false beliefs about arguing.
False beliefs are created by bad learning experiences and false teaching. Reading the Bible regularly will help you to identify these false beliefs.
Five False beliefs about arguing:
- I have to argue because of what my spouse says/does. That is false. You never have to do something when better choices are available.
- Arguing is better than doing nothing. That is false. The better alternative to avoidance is not arguing. It is doing something effective to resolve the problem.
- It is healthy to argue sometimes.That is false. It is never healthy to do something damaging. Just because many people do something does not mean it is right or healthy.
- Arguing will create positive change. That is false. Arguing always damages relationships, even when you get what you want.
- Arguing is a way to be assertive and secure. That is false. Secure people are able to listen to what people say and do not feel a need to prove themselves.
You may have some other belief that supports your arguing. Examine the impact that arguing is having on your relationship to decide whether your belief is a good one or not. Arguing probably does help you to get something a little, but at great cost to your relationship.
Just because something works a little doesn’t mean that it is a good thing to do or it is the best thing to do. People who have a lot of success do something different than people who have a little success. Look for those better ways and try them out.
Do not take my word for anything. Test everything against Scripture and experience.
2 Focus on the truth rather than the lie
You may have never realized that almost everything that people say contains both a truth and a lie.
Results of responding to the lie
For example, if my wife says, You always forget what I tell you, there is a truth and a lie in that. The lie is that I don’t always forget what she tells me. The truth is that I do forget things that she tells me.
I can choose to become argumentative by focusing on the lie and telling her that I don’t always forget what she tells me. If I do that however, she is not likely to apologize and take it all back. She would just give me examples of my forgetting. I could then deny what she is saying, try to make her wrong by giving explanations for why I don’t remember, or even accuse her of not remembering things that I say. How well do you think that is going to work for our relationship?
If I do become reactive like that, she will say provoking things all the more because reactivity rewards people who provoke reactivity. That’s right. Reactivity rewards people who provoke reactivity.
Results of responding to the truth
If however, I focus on the truth in my wife’s statement I always forget what she tells me and agree that I do forget things that she says, it will go much differently. I can even give her an example of something she told me that I forgot, to bolster her statement.
Yeah, just like that time you told me you needed the car for a dental appointment and I totally forgot and went to the store.
What’s going to happen then? Either she will agree with me or she will give me another example and I will agree with her that was a good example, too. By not being provoked, and by agreeing sincerely, there is no conflict.
You’ve got to fight those defensive urges
Notice that to prevent an argument, I simply agreed with the truth. I didn’t point out the part she got wrong, I didn’t defend myself, I didn’t apologize, I didn’t explain, and I didn’t promise to do better. Learning to agree with the actual truth in what your spouse is saying, while ignoring the lie, will prevent arguments, help to create connection, and make it easier to work on legitimate issues.
The more you can admit that you are a fallible human being, just like everyone else, the less defensive you will be. It will be hard to provoke you and you will become a more secure and attractive person. Being defensive and argumentative, even when you are right, will damage connection while also making you look and feel insecure.
3 Be okay with your spouse not thinking just like you
The best marriages are always the ones where the husband and wife are very similar. No matter how similar you and your spouse are however, you will not think or feel exactly the same. Your spouse, just like other family members, is never going to think and feel just the same as you. Realizing that, and expecting that, will take a lot of the upset out of your interactions.
If you let go of the belief that your spouse has to think or feel just like you, or agree with you, then you will feel more free in your relationship. You still need to maintain your relationship by helping your spouse feel loved and spending time together.
For example, I like to garden. If my wife thought that gardening is a waste of time that I could be using on more productive things, that is okay with me. I would still garden. I don’t expect her to like or agree with everything I do.
- Wife: You are wasting time growing a garden. We can afford to buy our food.
- Husband: Yeah, there are lots of things I could do if I didn’t spend time gardening.
- Wife: So are you going to give up gardening?
- Husband: Nope.
The wife might try a few more times to convince her husband, get the same result and then give up. As long as the husband was being a good husband, his wife would adjust to his gardening. You can substitute whatever you like for gardening, like spending time on your phone, playing golf, and so forth.
Although in the example the husband could try to convince his wife that gardening helps him to stay in shape, be less stressed and grow tastier and more nutritious food, that would fail. Trying to prove himself right only would be trying to prove his wife wrong and we can’t connect with people that way.
On the other hand, if his wife asked him why he spent so much time gardening, then he could give those reasons. Answering questions, simply and honestly, is not arguing.
I don’t need my wife to be just like me in order to love her just the way she is. Also, I don’t need or expect my wife to like everything about me. I married a human being.
Agreement and boundaries are the replacement for arguing
Some people say that they don’t argue enough. The problem is not that they don’t argue enough, it’s that they don’t deal with problems. The antidote to problem avoidance is not arguing, it’s doing something effective to solve the problems.
Will arguing with your spouse about whether he or she should criticize and demean you actually stop this problem and bring you closer? Not at all. Will walking away as soon as your partner starts to criticize and demean you stop this problem? Yes it will.
Will holding a grudge for days get your relationship back on track? No it won’t. Will going right back to interacting positively with your partner after following through with your boundary get your relationship back on track? Yes it will.
Would you say it is good parenting to argue with children or to use good boundaries? Arguing will get you disrespect, boundaries will create positive change. The same is true for spouses and other people as well.
There are times not to agree, but we don’t argue at those times either
With any type of abuse, we will use boundaries to take swift, effective action. We will not argue or try to convince. Our spouse’s opinion or reasons will not matter. We have no need to convince them that they are being abusive or doing something very damaging. We get to decide what is abuse. They don’t.
As long as you do a good job as a husband or wife, your boundaries will be effective at bringing about positive change for the both of you. Your spouse will never like or agree with the boundaries and you shouldn’t expect that.
Two weeks of consistent boundaries will do what twenty years of arguing won’t do.
(Just to let you know, I don’t work with abuse victims. I recommend you seek a local counselor if you’re looking for help with that).
Let’s recap to avoid confusion…
I never want anyone to agree with something that is not true.
But, there is some truth in almost everything that someone says. If we disregard the parts that are not true and focus on agreeing with what is true, then all arguing will stop and we will start to build connection.
If your spouse is doing something damaging, you need to use effective boundaries to prevent that from continuing to happen rather than argue about it. Boundaries end bad behavior–arguing does not.
Arguing only damages relationships and is never healthy.
Making such changes does not require the cooperation or participation of your spouse. Even if you have a high conflict spouse, you can end the conflict and improve your relationship.
Changing old habits and giving up false beliefs takes practice doing something that does not feel natural. That is how we grow.
I have two resources which have helped many people to end arguing in their relationships.
The first is a book I wrote called Connecting though “Yes!” It has many examples to teach people how to use sincere agreement in many difficult situations such as divorce, affairs, addictions, blaming, and so forth.
The second is a coaching package in which I will help you to create a better relationship with an angry, controlling, selfish, or withdrawn spouse. Like all of my coaching packages, this is not a couple’s package. Working as a couple with a such a spouse generally results in a lot of talk with very little or no change.
Please don’t spend your time together arguing when you could be loving each other instead.