Dear Dr. Hurd: My wife and I argue a lot. It seems destructive in some ways. But we do make up in the end. I sometimes wonder if arguing is the only constructive way to solve problems. What do you think?
Dr. Hurd replies: Arguing is usually not a desirable or helpful way to communicate. I don’t advise it. But sometimes arguing is unavoidable, or, after the fact, it’s too late to reverse it. The key during an argument is not to say hostile things that you’ll later regret you said. These do great damage to marriages, because hurtful words cannot be taken back. In hindsight, though, there are some advantages to arguments. You can sit quietly and ponder what your spouse’s errors are. A key example of an error would be an assumption she has about what you think, feel or do that is mistaken. This allows you to go back to her and tell her, ‘I hear what you’re saying. I listened to what you’re saying. But I strongly believe you’re operating on some mistaken assumptions about what I think, feel and do. May I tell you what those are?’ You can do this, in whatever form you like and in your own words. You can try it verbally, but if it doesn’t work verbally, then try it in written form. You can later discuss with her what you wrote her, after she had a chance to think about it, or you can even write each other back and forth if she’ll do it. Writing cannot serve as a substitute for verbal communication, but it can help each partner be more rational and feel more listened to, including about mistakes you believe or know she’s making in her interpretations of you.