Helpful arguing

Once a pattern of real communication has been established as the couple learn to actively listen to each other, we may address further issues as to how to respond when an argument arises. Resentment and rage builds as unhelpful arguing leaves issues unresolved and learned patterns of behaviour continue, thus perhaps one of the most important factors is not to let anger fester but to tackle problems as they arise rather than allow feelings to escalate and become unmanageable. In this instance, in order to avoid anger turning into rage, it is obviously helpful to discuss issues as they occur in a calm and rational manner.

As in any relational transaction, an idea of what is required to be achieved, i.e. a goal or outcome may be postulated. What is the argument really about? Is it really about whether or not hubby has left his dirty laundry all over the bedroom or is it more about the symbolic mess being experienced both in and out of the bedroom? If the row becomes heated, as therapists we may suggest a signal that it's time to stop and really think about what is going on in the mix rather than continuing going round and round in ever decreasing circles and achieving nothing.

We're very good at blaming others and projecting our own shadow on those who are closest to us. More often than not, it's a matter of really owning what belongs to us which is one of the most difficult challenges we often face in our own journey towards self-awareness. So in taking responsibility for our own process, often gaining an understanding as to how we come to continually lay the blame elsewhere, can only lead ultimately towards a more healthy way of relating.

White and Epston (1990) offer a clear outline of 'arguing helpfully' and state:

'Habits of quarrelling' is preferable to 'our quarrels', 'a vicious circle of misunderstandings' is preferable to 'inability to understand each other', 'losing sight of our love' is better than 'our disillusion with each other.' Medical definitions or those embodying psychological concepts are usually inappropriate as they carry negative overtones and also imply so-called superior, expert knowledge on the part of the person who suggests them. Examples of ill-chosen names would be 'repressed feelings', 'dysfunctional relationship', 'denial'. In some instances, there may be a genuine medical or psychological element contributing to the couple's difficulties, and here it may be appropriate to acknowledge this factor by using the term in an externalising way for at least some of the time: 'the depression affecting him' rather than 'his depression', 'the agoraphobia interfering with her life' rather than 'her agoraphobia'. (i)

(i)White, M. and Epston, D. (1990). Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. New York: Norton, p.6

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Written by Elise Wardle MA MBACP (Accred.), Counselling, Psychotherapy & Supervision

Elise Wardle MA is an accredited counsellor, psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice. Integrative and Jungian in orientation, her specialisation is in depth psychology with a focus on dreams and the journey within, or for those who need intervention therapy, brief focused counselling is also frequently offered to clients.… Read more

Written by Elise Wardle MA MBACP (Accred.), Counselling, Psychotherapy & Supervision

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