How to have a constructive argument

communication in marriage – arguments

Despite the best intentions and honed inter-personal skills, you will argue. This is normal. The classic stages of group dynamics hold in marriage too. Forming, storming, norming and performing except in a marriage the cycle never ends, storming, norming and performing, storming, norming and performing, storming, norming and performing, storming, norming and performing. When a married couple tell me that they have been married for 40 years and have never had an argument I am immediately sceptical. In my opinion they are either being dishonest (to create a good image) or they have a VERY hierarchical marriage and one of them is totally dominant and the other totally subservient.

My advice here is two-fold.

  1. Don’t bottle things up. I often ask to Jax after a heated discussion why she allowed her feelings to get to explosion stage instead of sharing earlier. Express your feelings (ideally in Adult -> Adult mode).
  2. Warning. This is incredibly difficult for both of you. It takes a lot of self-control.
    1. Make two appointments with your spouse 24 hours apart. For example, at 8pm on Wednesday night and 8pm on Thursday the next night.
    2. Tell your partner that you have something you want to share that is bothering you.
    3. On the first appointment you tell them what is bothering you. THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RESPOND. Just listen.
    4. On the second appointment, they report back with their thoughts and feelings relating to the issue. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RESPOND. Just listen.

I love this because it forces good communication. What we as humans do when someone gives us feedback is we instinctively react with our point of view. We want to defend ourselves. We react so quickly that we do not honour our partners sharing, opinion and feelings. This leaves them feeling un-heard and frustrated.

When you are not able to manage the discussion in ADULT mode and you find yourself in a big fight, have your argument, say what you need to but try your best not to get nasty. Then make up as quickly as you can. Apologise if you need to and get on with life.

Sometimes when Jax is angry with me after an argument I will ask her if she can imagine a time in the future when she will be friends with me again. The second she says, “Yes” I suggest with my naughty grin that she starts immediately and not waste the time in between J!


This is an excerpt from the book, “So you’re married, now what?

Written by the marriage expert, Stephen van Basten


About Stephen van Basten - The Marriage Expert

When you meet Stephen van Basten you instantly realize that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is not a moment to judge a book by its cover. Stephen boasts a list of achievements: He met his wife, Jacqui, 27 years ago, married her 21 years ago and is the proud father of a 'very together' 18 year old daughter. Stephen will immediately tell you with a twinkle in his eye, that Life, Work, Marriage and Parenthood are not for sissies. That while they are all hard work, they can be, and should be, incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Stephen is a past Karate World Champion, a yoga enthusiast and recovering golfer. If you opened Trip Advisor on his facebook page you will see that he has visited 81 cities in 52 countries including the USA, Alaska, Japan, Europe, Australia and China. Stephen has owned his own company, worked in his family's business, being employed by small and large businesses like Shell SA and the BTG Group. His titles include Brand Manager, Sales Manager, Account Manager, Sales Representative and Business Owner. He now sees himself as an Author, Speaker, Trainer and Coach. Stephen published his first book, "So you're engaged, now what? The journey from engaged to married" in December 2013. His ingenious marketing strategy put this book into over 2000 hands in its first 6 months. His second book "So you're alive, now what? The journey from birth to death" is available online and he is working on 5 more books in the series including "So you're married, now what?". Stephen's obvious passion and first love is Human Behavior and specifically Human Behavior as it manifests in RELATIONSHIPS. He is quick to point out that we have many differing relationships: employer, employees, customers, suppliers, colleagues, friendships, marriage, parents, siblings, children, our maker, other drivers on the roads and we generally have issues in most if not all of them. Stephen is a student of the well-known human behavior specialist, Dr. John Demartini and is constantly researching and honing his understanding of this incredibly complex subject. In 2013 he completed over 175 hours of intense training on T. Harv Eker's signature courses.
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