Neutralizing Arguments in Relationships

It is not uncommon for many couples to find themselves in adversarial positions in discussing issues of concern to one or both of them. The desire for need fulfillment, personal validation and reaffirmation of our mate’s ongoing love and support are crucial in maintaining the stability of our bonded connection. How can mates be reassured of all the above and still be free to express their opinions, needs and wants in a safe and mutually supportive way?

Keith Stanford, a researcher and Associate Professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University found, “It is common for partners to be sensitive about power sharing and control in making decisions in their relationship.”

This cognitive perspective about balanced power sharing did not address the underlying emotional needs associated with these conflict resolutions.

Research at Stanford University of 3500 married people found that the two essential concerns of couples during conflicts were, “Perceived Threat” to one’s status by a critical or demanding mate, or “Perceived Neglect” by disloyalty or lack of a partner’s investment in the relationship.

It is clear that arguments may begin as a result of variance between mates’ behavior and actions but may become encircled by the deep emotional doubts about being protected, positively regarded, loved and uniquely special to the mate.

My terminology to summarize these underlying needs that surface during disagreements is “We need to Matter-Not to Shatter.” Mattering includes sensing that we are physically safe, intellectually respected, emotionally supported and uniquely loved. The latter is the bi-product of the reassurances we seek and the support we regularly expect during all interactions with our beloved.

As humans we have mastered language skills to articulate our thoughts and feelings, express our needs, be kind and supportive to others and exhibit consideration and compassion in our own way. We also learned to assert our right to have our needs met by those who love us. Children run to their parents when they are hurt, frightened or feel harmed by others. Adults also seek reassurance from trusted confidants, primarily their spouses.

During any disagreement with our mate we are wise to expand our view from our sole self-awareness and concomitantly realize that our mate is also hurting and needs from us the same reassurances, kindness, respect and admiration we want from him/her. During an argument we seek understanding, affirmation, support and love and need to provide the same to our beloved. Only through mutual respect and compassion can we attain the goal of shared satisfaction and enhanced bonded love with our precious mate.

To neutralize arguments:

  • Consider that both of you are temporarily “wounded” during arguments and in need of support, validation and love.
  • Listen open-heartedly and say, “I understand what you said, respect your needs and want to support you since I love you dearly.”
  • Ask, “What can I say or do right now that will help you feel better and what would you wish for in the future regarding this issue?”
  • Graciously honor the request.









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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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