I’ve known today’s guest columnist for several years and know that he has a deep desire to help people succeed in marriage. Keith Berryman is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmington, and today he shares information vital to anyone who wants a happy, engaged marriage.
The art of the argument
A trained observer can predict with 90 percent accuracy whether a marriage will fail simply by watching how the couple navigates disagreement. If either or both of the spouses take the opportunity to engage in blaming, escalating, invalidating or withdrawing, there is a 90 percent likelihood they are on a trajectory to divorce or chronic unhappiness.
Is it best never to argue then? Good luck with that. I have known couples still enjoying the “honeymoon” phase of their relationship who boast they never have disagreements. That’s nice, but probably artificial, so realistically it cannot last.
Because disagreement is a natural and common occurrence in every long-term human relationship, one of my primary goals in marriage and pre-marriage counseling is to equip couples with the tools to argue well. Here is a quick summary of the strategy I urge couples to practice when they don’t see eye-to-eye on a matter of significance.
Don’t fear disagreement. Remember, you’re becoming one flesh, but you still have two minds. This is more true in younger marriages where much of the shaping influences of life happened apart from your spouse. You’re going to have a different perspective on some things. That’s not a sign of a bad marriage; it’s a reality of human life. Arguing, when done properly can be a healthy way to grow your relationship by learning to understand and appreciate one another. Learn the art of arguing the right way, and you’ll find a pot of gold at the end of every disagreement.
Understanding is your goal, not "winning." Your first instinct in an argument is to convince the other person you are right and they are wrong. We usually set out to accomplish this by logical "brute force," some means of compelling the other person to relinquish their position and come over to our side. But let’s face it — as hard as it may be to imagine, you could be wrong. Whether you are or not, what possible harm could be done if you were to listen to the perspective of someone you love who seems to see something you’ve missed?
You will know you’ve had a successful argument when you and your spouse can state each other’s point of view in terms the other will agree with. In other words, you’ve helped each other understand your thinking and how you arrived at it. Consider what a big step that is. From there, it is a very small step to agreeing on the right way forward, now that you both see where the other person is standing and what their perspective of the situation is.
Timing matters. Don’t argue when you’re mad, when you’re tired, when you’ve got a lousy attitude about other things or at any time when your thinking is excessively clouded. The art of a healthy argument takes time, thoughtfulness and patience. Bring your A game or postpone the conversation. Postponing does not mean you bury the disagreement. Make an appointment to revisit the issue as soon as both of you are cool-headed enough to keep emotions from running away with your better judgment. And by all means keep the appointment. Don’t let your disagreement smolder under the surface only to have it burst into flame when you’re not ready for it.
Ask for help. If you can’t reach the point of understanding, then agree on sharing the problem with someone else who can offer another perspective. Sometimes a trusted third party will see something you both missed. Involve your pastor, a counselor or a friend whose insight you both trust.
Of course, not everything we disagree about is worthy of an argument. Is it her turn to pick what we watch on television or mine? Is it OK if he chose the last three restaurants for our date nights and I’ve never gotten a say? Is it going to be a hindrance to our relationship if the hand towels in the guest bathroom are covered with daisies or camo? A real artist knows when the argument is worthy of the time and attention of two adults, or when it’s only an excuse for childish squabbling.
Hear more from Keith Berryman
As is often the case, I find myself in complete agreement with the thoughts expressed in today’s column. Keith is absolutely correct that every married couple — at least those involving imperfect human beings — will have moments of disagreement from time to time. We all have moments of disagreement with ourselves at times, so what chance is there we will never disagree with another human being with whom we interact on a regular basis? Virtually none!
Keith is scheduled to be my guest on "TWOgether as ONE" at 6 p.m. Monday on KLJH 107.1FM. We’ll be sharing more tips on how to manage conflict in marriage and how to achieve intimacy and closeness, which is actually what we crave when we agree to merge our lives with another.
And, lastly, please mark your calendars for Feb. 19. Kim and Krickitt Carpenter will be at the Farmington Civic Center to discuss updates about "The Vow" and share information about what factors are so critical to the overall health and wellness of a marriage. This is a free event, but you must have a ticket to get in. Ticket locations and more information are available at fccmf.org.
Ron Price is the co-founder and executive director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a nonprofit rganization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners area. He can be reached at 505-327-7870.