Tanya : May 23, 2012 2:18 pm : Blog

Is Arguing a “Bad Sign”

One of the questions we often get from couples enquiring about the necessity for therapy at our Kelowna counselling office is whether their arguing is a sign their marriage is in trouble. Couples often feel emotionally overwhelmed, losing hope that their relationship will continue to survive let alone thrive and at a loss for how to proceed.

Often, in their efforts at assessing their relationship health, couples have to rely on their own fantasies of what a good relationship looks like.  For some, its the absence of argument or conflict. For others its the presence of sensitive and open communication. Some actually go so far as to believe healthy relationships are typified by greater conflict. Regardless of how family familiar or socially acceptable these fantasies may be, however, they often don’t match reality.

One of the significant contributions of research on relationships is that well functioning relationships have been studied over long periods of time, even up to 20 years. We no longer have to rely on what we imagine a good relationship to be like. Not only can we assess relationship health based on positive and negative relationship traits but on the functioning of patterns of interaction within conflict.

This research has uncovered distinct conflict styles: Avoiders, Validators and Volatiles. Though our initial instinct may be to recall all the times we have Validated and to look for Avoider and Volatile traits in our partner its best to withhold this self advocating thinking for a moment. In actual fact, all conflict styles were functional, stable and happy if, but only if, the ratio of positive to negative interaction during conflict was greater than or equal to a 5 to 1 ratio.   What is most important here is not the an individual’s conflict style but the congruency of conflict styles in couples. Significant mismatches in preferred conflict styles between couples are at the core of what are called demand/withdrawal or pursuer/distancer interactions; dangerous patterns of interaction so well articulated by Dr. Sue Johnson in her book “Hold Me Tight’.  Couples with these interactions often become characterized by both the absence of escalated negative affect during the conflict but also the absence of any positive affect during the conflict as well. Often couples with these patterns end up emotionally disengaged and leading parallel lives, much like ships passing in the night.

Relationships with mismatched styles are not doomed however. With intervention aimed at clarifying and honouring the validity of two coexisting realities, correcting mismatches in conflict style and with the aim of establish dialogue rather than gridlock, functionality and harmony can be brought to the relationship.

Another important factor here is consideration of whether conflicts we struggle with and argue over are actually solvable. According to long term studies of couples only 31% of couples major areas of continuing disagreement were about resolvable issues. This means that 69% of the time they were about what Dr. John Gottman terms, unresolveable perpetual problems.  Another prominent couples therapist Dan Wile wrote “there is a value when choosing a long term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolveable problems that you will be grappling with for the next 10, 20, or 50 years.”  Generally, therefore, the goal is to create dialogue rather than gridlock on these perpetual issues.  What matters is not solely the problems but the emotional state around which they are discussed. Gridlocked discussion usually leads to painful exchanges or icy silence and usually involves criticism contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness.   The goal is to establish a dialogue with the perceptual problem that communicates acceptance of the partner, humour, affection, even amusement and active coping with the unresolvable problem rather than the condition of gridlock.

By emphasizing process rather than content when addressing conflict, relationships can actually be  strengthened. The couple is empowered with mutual understanding, awareness of destructive processes, a common vision and concrete strategies for success.

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seo : May 7, 2012 5:34 am : Blog

Kelowna Counselling and Therapy First Blog Post

Here you will find resources, links, and information that will help you find the right counsellor in Kelowna, and find a happier you.

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