Why Arguing Well is a Win for Your Relationship

Team Ritual
Last Updated:
June 26, 2022

Have you ever tried to fast forward an argument by saying what you thought your partner wanted to hear just so the fight could be over? Have you ever bubbled with anger only to simmer back down because upsetting the status quo is simply exhausting?

You, us, and everyone else.

Why do we go to such great lengths to avoid the mess of conflict and argument - and why do we think it helps our relationship?

Take a glance at Hollywood and try to think of a romantic comedy that doesn’t end with ‘happily ever after.’ Can you?

Embedded in us is this desire to strive for harmony and happiness. To go after the happy ending and not dare make waves for fear that our relationship may sink.

Hollywood is the obvious example, yet our instinct to ‘fast forward’ comes from a slew of places: how we grew up, learning from our parents trying to hide or avoid fighting, people pleasing tendencies, not wanting to be confrontational, not wanting to disappoint someone, trouble regulating ourselves when emotions run high, being tired of the same fight…and the list goes on.

Given that more than half of Boomer marriages end in divorce and Generation Z is barely coupling up, clearly something is off. Big time.

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The reality of everyday relationships is so different than the whimsical fantasy we’ve been fed.

Real relationships aren’t always happy and harmonious, so why do we (often unconsciously) feel the need to play the part of ‘the perfect couple?’

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that most couples don’t openly share the ‘real conflicts’ that happen behind closed doors. It gives us the impression that stable and good is the norm, when the reality is that everyone has conflict - we just don’t see them.

This is why many people land in relationships that are full of disillusion and disharmony, yet seemingly “perfect” from the outside.

It’s time to flip the script. Conflict is inevitable, and avoiding it may make us feel better in the moment, but spells disaster in the long-run. The real truth is that conflict is the juiciest and tastiest sweet spot where relationship transformation takes place. Ready to bite into the ritual reframe?

The more we avoid conflict, suppress emotion, and pretend that everything is hunky-effin-dory - the further we get from a healthy and harmonious relationship.

What if the magic of relationships lives inside the conflict we aim to avoid?

Stop Trying for Homeostasis.

Homeostasis derived from the Greek words “same” and “steady”, in other words “staying the same”.

The other day my husband Assael and I had an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember his answer to my clearly irritated inquisitive state was, “It’s fine, it’s fine.” He was trying to placate me to get the argument “resolved,” or at the very least, over and done with as quickly as possible so that we could just “get back to normal.” Sound familiar?

If we choose to embrace the ritual reframe practically - this is the exact moment where, as a couple, it serves everyone to do it differently.

This moment is what we call The Bickering Bridge. It’s the point in between two partners, where you can stay put on your own side, or meet in the middle. Of course you can also jump off, but we don’t recommend this. The Bickering Bridge is sticky, swampy, uncomfortable, dramatic, and not always easy to cross - yet also the meeting point that can serve our relationships.

When an argument starts, we have two choices. We can either glaze over it (and stay on our own sides), or get into it (and meet in the messy middle). And we say, get into it - because this is the most important part of your relationship. Downplaying the friction points is not how to build a healthy relationship. Leaning in to the discomfort is.

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Within this moment lives an opportunity to be vulnerable, brave, open, and real with yourself and your partner.

What if we learned to get more comfortable in the discomfort?

The ‘problem’ isn’t that we argue, it’s how we argue.

Photo by Shiva Smyth

Swap Homeostasis for Allostasis.

Allostasis was coined from the Greek allo, which means "variable;" thus, "remaining stable by being variable".

Dr. John and Dr. Julie Gottman have devoted their life’s work to researching couples and their relationships. Together, their comprehensive studies have enabled them to assess what makes certain couples masters, while others disasters.

The Gottman’s found that nearly 70% of our problems are perpetual. If you’ve ever wondered why you feel like you always have the same argument…it’s because you are.

Here’s the massive mindset shift. Rather than focusing our energy on NOT arguing, let’s focus on HOW we argue.

Allostasis requires regulation, flexibility, and awareness. We need to assess our needs, understand our emotions and regulate them accordingly so that we can efficiently and effectively interact with our environment (i.e. our partner). These are the skills we need to incorporate and infuse into our habits in order to strengthen our relationships.

It can be hard to lean in during an argument, because as humans, our natural responses may be to fall into Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn mode. If we’re able to reframe an argument as an opportunity for learning, we can hack those trauma responses, build our capacity to connect, and respond in a new way.

Adopting this adaptable mindset in our relationships will allow us to  -

  • Let go - Stop trying to solve the problem and use conflict as an opportunity to learn about you. We’re not striving for resolution, we’re striving for connection.
  • Stay flexible - when we become rigid we become set in our ways, we stop being curious and we get stuck in our perspective.
  • Get curious - by staying curious, we stay open, and willing to learn more about ourself and our partners perspective. Tapping into curiosity allows us to release our defenses, our judgment and criticism.
  • Be attuned - being adaptable requires us to be aware of our needs and regulate ourselves accordingly, meaning we increase our self knowledge about our emotions and reactions.
  • Grow together - shifting how we respond creates opportunity for growth and keeps it fresh and exciting.

Rather than pouring our efforts into not arguing, let’s focus our energies into arguing effectively - for deeper connection and understanding.

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Couples who argue a lot report lower levels of satisfaction, unless they feel understood in the argument, in which case they report significantly higher levels or satisfaction. In other words, if you know how to argue well, in a way that makes both feel understood, WIN WIN Win all around.

3 Cheers for Conflict

Instead of skipping over the middle part and expecting happily ever after, commit to the friction. Get curious about the discomfort. Let go of needing to ‘win’ or solving the problem, and let yourself live in the green room of real relationships, because this is the gold, the growth, and where the good stuff is found.

Our fantastical human mind, which has been inundated with all that “fighting is bad” rhetoric, is actually harming our relationships. The sooner we learn to let go of the illusion of happily ever after and start arguing effectively, the closer we may get…to each other.

How To Argue Effectively:

The next time you argue, reframe it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your partner.

  • Get curious and try to understand the other person, instead of getting defensive.
  • Release the need to resolve and explore what new information you can learn.
  • Be brave and vulnerable.
  • Be attuned to your needs and emotions as they come up so you can remain open.
  • Ask for what you need, whether it’s a break, a walk around the block to calm yourself down or maybe journal before you’re really ready to hear your partner.</aside>