Earlier this year, Grown Zone co-founders Zara D. Green and Alfred A. Edmond Jr. were interviewed by Essence.com Relationships Editor and Marriage Blogger Charli Penn about dealing with arguments and confrontation in relationships, and specifically marriages. Penn’s article from that interview, “Your Relationship Protection Plan,” was published in the October 2015 issue of Essence magazine. What follows here is our full interview with Penn.
ESSENCE: What are some tips for how couples can avoid arguments and confrontations in their marriage? Be specific and think in terms of actionable strategies to share.
Zara: The first and most important key to avoiding arguments and confrontation is tending to the condition of the relationship between you and your partner, which is the foundation of the marriage, at all times. Is it healthy—defined in the Grown Zone as established via a demonstrated mutual commitment to honor, esteem and respect? Is it always about tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, loyalty and trust (what we refer to as relationship sustainers in our book, Loving In The Grown Zone)? If the foundation (the relationship) is solid, the house (the marriage) can withstand disagreements. If the foundation is faulty, then the marriage is in danger, no matter how much (or little) you disagree.
Alfred: In a healthy relationship, disagreement should never equal division. Never position or treat your partner as the problem; the problem (financial stress, changing sexual needs, misbehaving children, etc.) is the problem; you partner is your ally against it, not your enemy. In a healthy relationship, while you may not agree on the solution, you remain united against the problem. If you can’t, then again, you both need to deal with strengthening the integrity of your relationship. Never allow the problem to become more important than the person.
Zara: Do not confuse conflict avoidance with conflict resolution. You can’t destroy a healthy relationship by disagreeing. Conversely, you cannot fix an unhealthy one by avoiding conflict. Pretending to agree when you really don’t is not a substitute for discussing it until you can reach a resolution. Putting off the discussion to avoid an argument only allows hurt and resentment to build, allowing a minor disagreement to become a devastating (and avoidable) blow-up.
ESSENCE: What should a married couple do when they feel they’re arguing or disagreeing more than usual?
Alfred: Recognize that when disagreement always lead to arguments, the arguments are never about the disagreement. To prevent lasting damage to the relationship (the foundation of the marriage), they need to clear space, time and opportunity just for themselves to safely and openly discuss their feelings, not to agree with each other, but to truly hear and be heard by each other. The underlying issues will nearly always be about fear, insecurity, distrust, anxiety or hurt, not the apparent topics of disagreement. It is your and your partner’s job to make each other feel safe, so that you can face your problems together.
ESSENCE: Are there certain words/phrases/behaviors that trigger arguments and disagreements in a marriage?
Zara: Anything that is accusatory, even if unintentional, will introduce pain and defensiveness to even the most minor of disagreements. Avoid “you did” phrases; instead, use “I feel” or “I thought.” Also, be clear about your expectations; too many people punish their partners for not “just knowing” when they were never told.
Focus on clearly and consistently communicating what you want and need, and truly listening for what your partner wants and needs. And recognize that they won’t always be the same. That’s why I teach a system on temperaments: recognizing your priorities and that of your partner, and how they differ, so that you can understand your own desires and recognize and live in harmony with theirs.
ESSENCE: Do you feel a couple can avoid “arguing” all together? If so, why or why not? And, how?
Zara: It’s important to note that you cannot avoid disagreements. You are two different individuals with different experiences, temperaments and ways of seeing the world. However, in healthy relationships, disagreements don’t routinely lead to arguments, but to resolutions. The inability to safely disagree breeds fear, insecurity, bitterness and distrust; these are much bigger threats to your marriage than anything you might disagree on, and will increase the destructive capacity of even the smallest arguments.
ESSENCE: Realistically speaking, what role do you feel “arguments” play in a marriage? What role should they play?
Alfred: To the degree that arguments are adversarial, there is no place for them in a healthy relationship. (It’s like the left hand fighting with the right hand, as if they weren’t created to be different.) It is healthy for you and your partner to be able to safely express disagreement with one another. It is unhealthy for you to routinely become adversarial. Just because arguments are common in marriage does not mean they are acceptable.
Zara: The role of disagreement—merely the expression of differences, and therefore, individual uniqueness—between two people is to be a catalyst for learning about one another and growing together. There is no greater gift than sharing life and love with someone who is healthy for you, but different from you. You will always challenge, fascinate and inspire one another to do what we are all created to do—learn, grow and love. When you can’t agree on what the answer is, you can move forward and find out together.
ESSENCE: What do you find couples argue most about and how can they solve that?
Zara: The two biggies are sex and money. That’s why relationships built on the desire for these things (what we call attractors in our book) are nearly always unhappy and usually unsustainable. Sexual desires come and go. Money gets funny. Both are the fruit, not the root, of a great relationship; they go in and out of season. The best way to avoid arguing over them is to not make them the foundation of your relationship in the first place. If you’ve made that mistake and you’re already in it, you’ve only got two options—end the marriage, or renegotiate the terms of your relationship, focusing on the lasting values of healthy, sustainable unions: honor, esteem and respect. No argument can destroy a marriage built on that foundation.
Stop chasing and losing. Start ATTRACTING and CHOOSING! Learn proven guidelines and principles GUARANTEED to make you happy and fulfilled REGARDLESS OF YOUR CURRENT RELATIONSHIP STATUS. Use the power of self love to become an irresistible MAGNET for the lasting, drama-free, AUTHENTIC LOVE created specifically for you and ONLY you! Order your copy of Loving In The Grown Zone TODAY at LovingInTheGrownZone.com!