We spoke with Dr. Tina Paone, the Clinical Director of the Counseling Center at Heritage in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, to hear her words of wisdom about fighting fair in a marriage or relationship.
"An argument is simply the debate of an issue, and it is completely normal," Dr. Paone said. "When you find yourself in an argument with your partner, you need to accept that you are arguing and that you are going to have disagreements."
Dr. Paone added that when arguments are used effectively, they are the means through which couples can come to a consensus about the issues they are facing. Arguing can be especially effective in building respect for each other's opinions and strengthening the relationship, as long as the conflict doesn't devolve into a win/lose battle.
An argument, therefore, becomes unhealthy when it's about winning rather than collaborating, and when the involved partners fail to respect each other's opinions.
Of course, even the best relationships can struggle with unhealthy arguments when feelings turn tense. Dr. Paone suggested the following ground rules to help maintain a healthy pattern of conflict:
Some women (and men) find themselves trying to abide by the ground rules, but their boyfriend or spouse continues to fight dirty. So what can a woman do then?
"When a partner wants to maintain unhealthy conflict, you need to ask where this unhealthy conflict is coming from," Dr. Paone said. "Determine if you and your partner want to continue the cycle of unhealthy conflict. There is no way to argue effectively with someone who wants to argue ineffectively. If things do not improve and your partner is unwilling to make the effort to change, seek counseling."
If all else fails, Dr. Paone advised that the partner who is disconcerted in this situation needs to consider whether or not they want to continue in the unhealthy relationship.
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