Did you know that arguing can actually help your relationship?
The best way to elucidate this point is to talk about an argument I had with a friend of mine. While we were having dinner one night, the conversation shifted to the topic of art. My friend started telling me a story about a South African artist who had gotten a huge ball of plasticine (a type of plastic material) and rolled it through the streets of a number of poverty-ridden cities in South Africa to make a statement about violence and poverty. The ball was then displayed in a museum for people to come and say “ooo” and “aww.” Well I just thought this was too funny and laughed.
However, he didn’t intend for his story to be funny.
My friend, who I have known for five or six years and who has always been the most mellow human being on the face of the Earth, got pretty passionate (what I didn’t know at the time was when he was younger, he worked in that museum and it was his responsibility to dust off the ball each night). And this only made me laugh harder. I mean he was exhibiting such intense emotional reverence for a big plastic ball that picked up trash!
But then I saw he wasn’t just being passionate. He was clearly upset. I just looked at him and said, “OK, let me understand this. The guy took a huge ball of goopy plastic, rolled it through streets to pick up garbage, and it ended up in a museum?!” This just seemed like the plot of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to me. There was nothing he planned, this was not creative, and whatever got stuck stayed. How the hell could anybody call that art?
Well he did, and the situation didn’t get any better. He then mentioned another very famous German artist who just painted a canvas black, but it was considered a great piece because of the way the brushstrokes reflected light. At this point, I lost it all together. I was the laughing version of inconsolable. I couldn’t stop laughing. I have to tell you, if it looks like I can do it, it’s not art (I don’t think Pollock throwing paint on a canvas is art either). For me, an entity is attractive or it’s not. I don’t care who made it, what their political history was, if they were rich or poor, or if they had emotional, mental, or physical problems. My friend, on the other hand, thinks a piece of art has no intrinsic value unto itself. For him, art is tied to history, biography, era, and circumstance – something has artistic value because of the surrounding context. I could not agree less. I don’t think that’s art, I think that’s a personal statement. I think art is supposed to be attractive, passionate, and powerful without all that surrounding stuff. For example, as I pointed out to my friend, if you suddenly found out that the big plastic ball of garbage was created by Donald Trump, it would no longer be meaningful.
However, through this argument, we came to a deeper understanding about each other. I called him up the next day, apologized, and told him I now had a better understanding and appreciation about something that was so emotionally personal to him. I just said we probably wouldn’t go art shopping together, and we shared a good laugh.
Arguments, especially between you and someone you care about, should be constructive and bring about a deeper understanding. Here are a few general tips for arguing in your marriage:
Only argue about one thing at a time. Don’t start bringing up history or other subjects, and don’t wait until you have a long list of disappointments to air. Talk about things as they happen and you’ll avoid feeling ferocious from holding in your frustration.
Argue very gently. Don’t criticize, name-call, or blame. Arguing is not about abuse – it’s about stating your needs clearly and respectfully. Try as hard as you can to figure out what the other person is talking about and what they want without being defensive. If you’re getting defensive, just tell them you’re getting a little hot under the collar and to give you 30 minutes to go for walk, take a shower, or make a cup of tea. Say you’ll finish the discussion later. And during the break, don’t rehearse what you’re going to argue about. Just calm yourself down.
Listen to each other. People have different personalities, tastes, histories (family, emotional, and psychological), needs, goals, and dreams. There’s only one reason couples grow apart: they haven’t reached out to each other, expressed what’s on their minds, or taken what the other person has expressed and done anything constructive with it. People do not naturally grow apart – it’s totally voluntary. If you’re having a discrepancy with your husband or wife about decorating your house, for example, you need to communicate. Ask each other what makes you feel comfortable in a home. Not all the rooms have to be the same style. Compromising and giving the other person something they dream about is all part of love. In my house, if one of us says we really don’t like something, it doesn’t come into the house. We just keep looking until we can find something we both like. (Now, fortunately we have relatively similar tastes, such as not wanting a lot of beads hanging from anything).
Stay focused on the solution to the problem. I once read a story about the CEO of a cancer research company who actually encouraged arguing because as opposed to getting input from a bunch of “yes” men and women, the arguments would foster new ideas. And when the arguments got heated or off track, he would just say, “Hey, let’s remember why we’re here – to cure cancer. Keeping focused on the mutual goal is very important. For example, the next time you and your spouse are trying to go out to the movies and there are dishes to put away, don’t stand there fighting about who did the dishes the last time. Just keep focused and say, “We have to get this crap out of the way so we can go to the movies.” Get it done without the ego of who did what. The point is to find a solution.
The real purpose of arguing is to come to some kind of agreement or compromise. The main point of arguing is not to win (you could even put that on little three-by-five cards around the house). Having a useful argument means you’ve learned something about yourself and about your partner. Always remember you love each other.
As many of you know, I take pool lessons. The hardest thing for me to learn was that dropping the ball in the pocket is not the goal. Instead, you’re supposed to play for that incredible feeling of when you make the perfect stroke exactly in sync. The point is the feeling, not winning a particular point.
So, the next time you’re arguing with someone you love, remember the point is not to win the point – it’s to experience the feeling of being in sync.