Friday, February 3, 2012

good arguing is good for the family

Research shows that arguing can be good for your marriage, but only if it's done right, reports the Star Tribune. "There's a difference between 'good fighting' and 'bad fighting,' and the latter can be as destructive as the former is beneficial."

I grew up in a house of anger and never knew there was such a thing as "good" or "constructive" arguing until I met the family of my first boyfriend. A raised voice still reduces my body to a pit of dread. In my head, I know that it can be totally fine and healthy to engage in a heated argument, but my body just doesn't trust it.

I really struggle with this one, because I want to be a good role model for Lilly. I want to be able to demonstrate constructive-issue-oriented arguing to her (as opposed to destructive-people-oriented, intentionally hurtful and abusive fighting) but I still haven't been able to have an argument with Leighton without feeling death, even if, when looking back on it, the argument was in fact quite "good," and with a sense of closure, resolution, at the end. Says William Doherty, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Social Science, about arguing in front of your children:
"If they never see you argue, they're going to get a very unrealistic image of marriage. If it's hostile, contemptuous, full of shouting and name-calling, that's bad. But if it's a small irritation that is addressed respectfully and the kids see that 15 minutes later you've gotten over it and everything is fine again, that's helpful."

It's not like Leighton and I avoid arguments at all cost; we're both too willful for that. In my head self, I can in fact say that we have a good line of communication and good arguments. They just don't feel good to me. In the heat of the moment there is no line between us, only a numbing vacuum.

Leighton knows this and together I think we've made some progress to help us both feel less shell shocked by arguments, and in turn the arguments become less paralyzing. And I'm beginning to feel less freaked out if something isn't resolved that very moment. If it gets too difficult for me to go any further, if the topic of the conversation, confrontation, argument, feels too overwhelming, if I meet a block, I know I can pick it up at a later time. And at least something has been initiated. At least I'm trying to pull it out from beneath the rug, at least I'm trying to murk around in that shitty past, at least I'm trying to deal with something, at least I'm doing something for me, for us. At least I'm fighting to get my head above water, for air, to breathe.


  1. I so totally get where you're coming from here. My parents were both in marriages that involved AWFUL fighting, screaming and crying and no-holds-barred mean undermining shit. To make matters worse, one couple BELIEVED that they were fighting in a healthy way and that it was important to do that in front of us so that we would benefit from a realistic view of conflict in marriage.

    I remember what that feels like, being trapped in that situation as a child, and I also remember one day when Noah was a little baby and we were exhausted and started sniping at each other: my main and immediate reaction was to burst into tears and announce with absolute finality "This child will NEVER have to listen to us be mean to each other. Or I'm out."

    I think one big point of confusion is what everybody means by "fight" and "argument." To me, "a small irritation that is addressed respectfully and the kids see that 15 minutes later you've gotten over it and everything is fine again" is not an argument, it's just disagreeing and talking through it constructively. From my perspective, Eric and I actually *don't* argue or fight, though obviously we disagree and get misunderstood-feeling and have to use our 'feelings words' and figure out where to go from there. But over the years we've gotten to a point where we're always on each other's side, on a really basic level, and that doesn't feel the same as "fighting" to me. I wonder whether it's helpful (for those of us from scary-arguing backgrounds) to reconceptualize healthy conflict as something else entirely?

  2. Thank you, Molly! I really do appreciate your point about reconceptualizing healthy conflict as something entirely different from arguing and fighting, which just sound so terrible. "Disagreeing" rings more true to me than "arguing." And talking things through constructively, seeking to resolve whatever the issue may be, sounds more like it to me too.

    I like what you say too about over the years building a sense of trust that you're both on each other's side on a really fundamental level. I get that. I think slowly we're beginning to build more trust in our bodies that that is true for us too, also when we disagree about something, I mean. And of course we *know* it...

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