Sapna Magazine Archives

The Archives 2004-2020

How You Argue is the Relationship Problem


Dr. Howard Markman claims that he can predict with a high certainty if a couple will get a divorce, just based on watching them fight. In his book, Fighting for Your Marriage, he discusses four areas that are make or break behaviors for spouses: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretations, and withdrawal and avoidance.



Argument Scenario: Your fight started with a discussion about the dishes, but the next thing you know, you’re fighting about the fundamentals of your relationship and who is “rowing the boat” to keep the relationship alive.

Our Advice: Holding things in and looking for opportunities to bring up issues at unexpected times often leads to escalation. The best solution here is to recognize that you might be escalating the situation with your next comment. What are you trying to solve? The problem at hand or the mental list of problems you’ve been holding in? Keep your voice calm, listen, and also consider environmental issues which might make a discussion a bit more stressful, e.g. lack of sleep or pending deadline. The key to battling escalation is isolating the situation and resolving it.


Argument Scenario: You feel stressed about not spending enough time with your sweetheart, when you express your feelings, you’re told that you are “too sensitive” or “needy.”

Our Advice:  There is a reason you feel the way you do, and your partner needs to accept that. Maybe they won’t agree with your logic, maybe you’re the most illogical human being in the world, that still does not justify blowing off your emotions. Sometimes when your partner can’t relate to you, it’s easy to brush off or invalidate your feelings. Another root cause of invalidation is defensiveness. Your partner thinks, “I am not a bad person, so she must be wrong.” Relationships are not about agreeing about everything, it’s about compromise and common goals. Agree about that, and you’ll make it through.


Negative Interpretations

Argument Scenario:  Your partner buys you a gym membership for your birthday. When you open the gift, you have to hold back every muscle in your body not to fling it back. Is this a message that you’re fat and need to lose weight? The argument ensues.

Our Advice:  Negative interpretation happens when one person thinks that the other’s motives are more negative than they really are. In the above scenario, it’s hard to side with the gift giver, but would your opinion change if the birthday girl had said earlier that week that she needed a place to swim? Sometimes our own sensitivities can be projected on the people we love.  The best way to handle a situation like this is to sit down and address the negative interpretation in a calm manner, and let the other person explain themselves. Also, the explanation can’t be demanded, rather it must be politely asked for.


Withdrawal and Avoidance

Argument Scenario: After 20 minutes of back and forth argument, your partner yells, hangs up the phone, and then doesn’t answer your calls.

Our Advice:  Withdrawal and avoidance are two of the most unhealthy behaviors in a relationship. Sometimes it’s dramatic, like in the above scenario, and more often, its subtle like saying you have a call on the other line and have to go.  Taking a time out can be healthy for a relationship; it’s an opportunity to come back with cooler heads. Straight up withdrawal, on the other hand, often leads to couples playing games, losing trust, and building walls. Withdrawal should be addressed immediately, and couples should make an agreement on how to resolve the issue at hand.

Recognizing escalation, invalidation, negative interpretations, and withdrawal and avoidance before they snowball is the key to nurturing a healthy relationship.


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