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How to Argue, Fight, Bicker and Nag

First step to a healthy argument: put away the axe.

Ok, so no one really needs a how-to manual on any of those activities. But the WSJ’s Bonds columnist, Elizabeth Bernstein, says that fighting can actually be good for your relationship.

If you do it right.

Couples who argue well are happier. Couples who roll their eyes, criticize each other’s opinions or regularly stalk out of the room in fury? Well, they’re more likely to split, before or after they get married. On the other hand, couples who don’t argue at all, at least according to these experts, probably just aren’t talking. Is there a case to be made that you have to argue to be happy?

Not exactly. It turns out that what’s important is expressing a disagreement (and every relationship has a few of those) without resorting to destructive tactics. If you truly don’t feel like you argue (but don’t also have an internal laundry list of unaddressed grievances), then maybe you already know how to “fight right.”

What follows is, as these kinds of articles so often are, one of those descriptions of tactics and techniques that I can’t even imagine suggesting to my spouse. Call a “couples meeting.” Set a time limit. Flip a coin to see who speaks first. Who’s the speaker? Who’s the listener? The listener should repeat the speaker’s words to make sure that the listener truly understood.

That is, if the listener can stop giggling.

In our house, we’re miserable failures at anything like this. We fight plenty, sure, but the listener tends to be designated more by being the person who’s not stomping her feet and shouting, and somehow we’ve always, at least so far, managed to make ourselves understood. The formal techniques for these things don’t do much for us beyond making us feel silly (which is, actually, a pretty good way to diffuse a “negative communication”).

But there’s plenty of good advice in nearly every article about “how to fight,” and you don’t necessarily need to set any timers or designate any speakers to follow it. Talk it out, try to see both sides, look for the middle ground, and don’t assume that you’ve understood, or that you’ve been understood.  All fine for arguing (or, shall we say, addressing a disagreement) with a partner. But I’m still going to hang onto that foot stomping and shouting technique, until I figure out a better way to fight with my kids.

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