The art of arguing, part I: what are the common misconceptions or negative perceptions surrounding arguments and conflict?

As a counsellor, I am always interested in the preconceptions that people bring to difficult moments. There is an accusation you often hear conflict-avoidant people: “you love to fight!” The idea behind that is that fighting is awful, and this person just seems to like it anyways for some damned reason.

What you find when you talk to people who are comfortable engaging in productive tension and conflict is that they also dislike it. But they believe fundamentally in the creative and productive powers these interactions have. As a counsellor, this is certainly my belief. Conflict sucks—it just does. We feel all kinds of discomfort— anger, blame, embarrassment, vulnerability—the whole spectrum of difficult emotions is available to us during moments of heated conflict. But I am also aware that the only way out is through.Conflict

Conflicts are make or break moments a lot of the time… but not all the time! In these essential frictions we have opportunities: the opportunities to either leave the conflict and allow it to stagnate into perpetuity or pollute the relationship in all kinds of damaging ways. Alternatively, we can use the galvanizing effect of being irritated and frustrated and hurt to actually construct with each other new ways of being together, new ways of relating.

Conflict, tension, and strife are literally the pathway to mature relationship. I love a honeymoon as much as anyone, but I love feeling safe and secure and seen by the people I most care about—and that comes through successfully navigating conflict. It is a sign of deep respect for the other and for the relationship to be willing to initiate and tolerate the discomforts of conflict. It is a symbol of trust and hope to stay engaged and keep working when heated emotions make communication difficult.

None of these ideas are present in the common sentiment that fighting and arguing is wrong, and loud emotions are bad, and people can’t be trusted to get heated, and no good comes out of “fighting”. But through this lens, conflict can communicate respect and trust of and for the other. It communicates that the relationship is important enough and strong enough for the other to hear the truth of your discontent.