"Virtually all couples, happy and unhappy, are going to argue,
particularly in the early stages of marriage. What tends to predict the
future of a relationship is not what you argue about, but when you do
argue, how you handle your negative emotions." (Howard Markman)
Does the above statement make sense to you? It makes more sense to us as
we continually research marriage compatibility. We used to think happily
married couples learned the secret of not arguing with each other --that
conflict was what destroyed good marriages. We now know that the problem
isn't that we disagree with each other but how constructively we're able
to work through it so the relationship stays in tact and loving. That
comes about because the couple acts in respectful ways even when
disagreeing--honoring the other persons feelings.
We came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "The Key to
a Lasting Marriage." It says that "even happy couples aren't totally
compatible" --which seems like a surprising statement. But as we share
portions of this article, prayerfully consider what God says to you and
how you can apply it to your own marriage. The author, Hilary Stout writes:
"A growing body of research suggests there's no such thing as a compatible
couple. This may come as no surprise to all those who have endured years
of thermostat wars, objectionable spending habits and maddening tendencies
at the wheel. But it flies in the face of Hollywood, most people's fantasies, and dating web sites selling scientific screening to find a perfect match. Years of relationship studies make it clear that most couples, whether they're happy or not, have a similar number of irreconcilable differences. What's more, all couples --happy or not --tend to argue about the same things. Top of the list, whether rich or poor, is money. Other topics include household chores, work obligations, kids & differing priorities.
"'Compatibility is misunderstood and overrated,' says Ted Huston, a
professor of psychology and human ecology. Mr. Huston and his colleagues
have been following 168 couples since they married during the 1980s. This
study and others like it make it clear that most dangerous disagreements
that arise in marriage --69% of them, are never resolved. The result has
been a gradual shift in marriage therapy, toward helping spouses manage,
accept, and even honor their discord, rather than trying to resolve the
un-resolvable. One national couples-counseling program suggests spouses
schedule a regular weekly date to argue. Others now offer instruction in
arguing. Some encourage couples to single out problems that can be dealt
with and accept that most (like how tidy the house should be) will never
"Of course some conflicts do matter deeply --he wants children and she
doesn't, to name a big one; alcoholism and infidelity, to name a couple
more. Differing religions and cultural attitudes also are problematic,
especially after the couple has children, says Scott Stanley, co-director
of the Center for Martial and Family Studies at the University of Denver.
He and co-director Howard Markman have done extensive studies tracking
couples from courtship through years of marriage. But the bottom line,
Markman says, is that 'virtually all couples, happy and unhappy, are going
to argue. What tends to predict the future of a relationship is not what
you argue about, but when you do argue, how you handle your negative
emotions.' This has led some in the profession to develop rules that can
make arguing less destructive:
- "Don't escalate an argument by blurting out generalizations" 'You
always...' Stay on a specific subject. Don't drag past events, behavior
and lingering grudges into the discussion.
- "Try not to interrupt --let your spouse finishing making a point before
you jump in.
- "Take a little time to cool down after a heated argument. But within an
hour, having a 'reconcillatory conversation,' which will result in a
more level-headed, productive discussion.
The article then tells of an experiment conducted by Dr. John Gottman's
Relationship Lab. They videoed couples arguing and monitored their heart
rates. Research has shown if your heart exceeds 100 beats per minute you
usually won't be able to rationally listen to what your spouse is trying
to tell you no matter how hard they try. Taking a 20-30 minute break
before continuing is suggested. When their heart rate rose above 100 the
researchers interrupted and said (falsely) that their equipment was
malfunctioning. [In the experiment]… "They asked couples to stop and read
a magazine until it was fixed. Once both people's heart rate had dropped
down to normal range, after about a half-hour, the researchers announced
the equipment was fixed and the couples started up their disagreement
again. The change after the interlude was marked. 'It was like it was a
different relationship,' Gottman says. Everyone was 'much more rational
"While airing differences is important, make sure to set aside some time
where discussing areas of discord is off-limits, Mr. Stanley and Mr.
Markman say. A walk by the river on a beautiful autumn day isn't the time
to bring up problems; it's a time to enjoy each other and remember what
attracted you to each other in the first place. Instead set aside a time
to talk about the things that are bothering you. Like many married
couples, Jim and Kathryn have a Saturday 'date' built into their weekly
schedules. The purpose isn't to catch a movie or dinner. Essentially, it
is to argue. On the recommendation of Mr. Stanley, the couple started
going out every Saturday morning to discuss problems and issues. At first
it felt a little awkward. Once they settled into the routine, it proved helpful.
"Before, discord could erupt at any moment and tempers would flare. Now,
knowing they have a set time to discuss difficult issues is comforting and
leaves them the rest of the week to relax. In fact, they rarely argue
during sessions anymore. They simply work through issues.
"RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: The following are some tips for fighting effectively
with your spouse:
- "Stay focused on the subject of disagreement ...Don't generalize (as in 'You always do___')
- "Don't bring up past events and old grudges ...Don't interrupt ...Don't use insults
- "Don't use inflammatory language, like 'This marriage is doomed.'
- "Don't stonewall [blocking the argument from allowing both sides to be
- "Try to say 'I' (as in 'I think) rather than the more inflammatory 'You'
(as in 'You don't')"
All of this comes down to being respectful of one another --even in your
anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, the Bible says, "In your anger do not sin. Do
not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil a foot-
hold." The Life Application Bible explanation for these verses reads “The
Bible doesn’t tell us that we shouldn’t feel angry. It is important to
handle our anger properly. If vented thoughtlessly, anger can hurt others
and destroy relationships. If bottled up inside, it can cause us to become
bitter and destroy us from within. Paul tells us to deal with our anger in
a way that builds relationships rather than destroys them. If we nurse our
anger, we give Satan an opportunity to divide us.”
So the challenge isn’t to eliminate conflict but to find ways to deal with
it so we resolve it in ways that honors each other and honors God.