Getting Along

Graydon G. Goss, MD



Most of us hate to argue, especially with the ones we love. We often wind up arguing anyway. This simple little book will quickly teach you to stop arguing and to improve your relationships --- all of them. It will help even if your loved ones are not interested in learning with you. (You’ll find it takes two to argue but only one to stop.) The best part is that you’ll probably discover that 99% of the fighting in your life wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Interested? Good! Read on.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an argument with someone you love without having the foggiest idea about how you got into it in the first place? If your answer is no, please write to me and inform me as to your name, species and planet of origin. You can't possibly be human.

I just looked up the word "argument" in a good dictionary and found that of six definitions listed only one had to do with quarrels or disagreement. Since I know that most people can, if they choose to, easily disagree about things without arguing, I looked up quarrel. Again, among several definitions, the one that seemed to represent common usage was "verbal conflict between antagonists." An antagonist was described as an opponent or adversary.

What I find striking in all of this is that, as a psychiatrist who works a lot with couples I constantly hear arguments between people who love each other and have no desire at all to be adversaries or opponents.

Thousands of American couples seek counseling every year. Their purpose in doing so is to save or improve their relationships. In most cases they share this purpose. It is fair to assume that they care about one another or they wouldn't spend the time and money in the endeavor. The vast majority of these couples are experiencing escalating or more frequent arguments. They want to stop.

For some, their arguments are loud and obvious. For others, the arguments are quiet and nearly invisible, manifest passively by emotional distance, withdrawal, and lack of sex or silent ruminating anger that festers for years.

If you ask people why they fight, they tend to site the issues over which they disagree as the cause. Sex, money and kids usually top the list.

They feel incapable of resolving, or even discussing these issues without winding up in some kind of a verbal brawl. They act as though the issues somehow "cause" the fighting. Sometimes, the mere mention of a "hot" issue seems to trigger an argument.

Consequently, they do their best to avoid talking about those issues. Without discussion, however, the issues remain unresolved or escalate. Frustration and anger build up inside.

Inevitably, the issues resurface. When they do the frustration and anger are ventilated, usually somewhat explosively. At this point, the likelihood of any resolution is even less than before, any discussion of differences degenerates into an argument even faster. Old, "hot", angry, frustration is notorious for promoting adversarial feelings.

Before long, an otherwise loving couple becomes transformed into what appears to be a pair of opponents, each trying to prove the other party wrong and vigorously defending their own position on the issue, regardless of what the issue is.

Sound familiar?

Let's examine this process in detail.




I have found that the following statements are true. Take a moment and think about each of them and how they relate to your relationships. If they make sense, good – if not, see the detailed discussion for each point in the pages that follow, then check again...

1. Arguments are not "caused" by issues or disagreements. Arguments are caused by a failure to successfully discuss and resolve issues and disagreements.

2. Discussions and arguments are not the same - they are opposites. A discussion is a dialogue between caring persons, the purpose of which is the resolution, the "fixing" of an issue. An argument is a dialogue between adversaries, the purposes of which is the establishment of who's position on the issue is "right", which party is "wrong", which party is to blame, and which party "caused" the disagreement. Other purposes of arguing include the defense of one's position, ventilation of old, irrelevant anger, punishment of a loved one whom one momentarily perceives as an enemy and the avoidance of hearing "the other side".

3. Discussions have a tendency to degenerate into arguments- even when we don’t want them to.

4. Anger, frustration, misunderstanding and ignorance increase this tendency.

5. Arguments ruin relationships by turning lovers into enemies.

6. Discussions save relationships by resolving problems that threaten them.

7. Most couples don't want to argue; they just don't know how to discuss.

8. Couples can learn how to discuss issues, and in doing so, learn how to resolve problems without arguing.

9. Most couples don't know this! They therefore fear and avoid the discussion of issues.

10. Most therapists don't know this! They therefore attempt to get couples to raise issues but inadvertently precipitate arguments.

11. Arguments in the presence of a therapist are just as unlikely to result in the resolution of an issue as those held without one. They are just more expensive.

12. Therefore, most marital or couple's therapy doesn't work. Sessions tend to degenerate into arguments for which the therapist functions as referee. The adversarial postures don't change.

13. There is nothing to be gained from raising an issue unless a couple is willing and able to discuss it to a point of resolution.

14. Couples unwilling or unable to discuss issues will not resolve them, but will rather grow increasingly angry and frustrated with one another. With great likelihood their relationship will deteriorate and fail. Afterwards, each person will blame either the other party or the issues for the failure of the relationship.

15. As a result they each will seek out new relationships while remaining ignorant of the real problem - lack of skill in discussing issues.

16. Consequently and sadly, the next relationship won't be any better. As soon as issues evolve, arguments will begin. The cycle will repeat itself. The conclusion will be the same.

17. Relationships, therefore, don't "work" until couples learn to discuss issues to the point of resolution.

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Copyright 1997 Graydon G. Goss, MD
Last revised: March 28, 2015.