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Disagreements between spouses are inevitable, but they don’t have to be mean

Monkey Business Images - Shutterstock

Mathilde De Robien - published on 05/16/20

All marriages experience conflict. These tips will help keep your arguments constructive.

While getting through the coronavirus-caused quarantine, spouses may find themselves arguing more than usual. According to a study in France, the top three topics of conflict are household chores, childcare, and the management of children’s screen time.

If we’re going to argue, we can try to do so constructively, following the advice of Dr. Nicolas Duchesne, psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Criticizing an action is very different from insulting a person. The secret to a “healthy” argument lies in the distinction between these two.

Denouncing a specific action or situation, not the person, is a way to identify the problem so a solution can be reached. But an insult or personal criticism targeting your spouse and not just their actions is more hurtful, and makes your spouse less likely to want to reach an agreement.

If we want an argument to be constructive and not too hurtful, we should “limit ourselves to a precise, specific, describable fact,” explains Dr. Nicolas Duchesne. More general criticisms “attack the relationship and the person.”

In other words, we should make comments like, “I’m angry because last night you didn’t put your dirty clothes away,” rather than, “You’re a such a slob; you never put your dirty clothes away!” “Always” and “never” statements should be avoided, as they put your spouse on the defensive. Don’t worry: Pointing out only one incident doesn’t mean your spouse won’t make the connection next time.

“Our mind generalizes,” psychiatrist Duchesne assures us, so the chances are that he or she will think about it again the following day. Another benefit of formulating our complaints in this specific way is that our spouses will be more receptive to the message. Most of us are more likely to listen to an objective description rather than vague allegations without specific facts.

It’s only natural to come into conflict when you’re in close quarters and under so much stress. But the disagreements of marriage don’t have to become a wall between you. If you focus on specific incidents and avoid insults, you can solve the problem as a team, bringing you closer together during this time.


Read more:
Advice from a marriage counselor for couples in quarantine


Read more:
Extroverts vs. introverts: How to get through quarantine and self-isolation

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