Is there such a thing as a healthy argument?

Yes, there is! Conflict itself won’t destroy a relationship if (1) the conflict doesn’t have certain kinds of negative interactions and (2) the conflict gets resolved—even if the resolution is to agree to disagree. The use of negative behaviors is the key difference between healthy and unhealthy arguments. To avoid escalation, try not to do the following:

  • Criticism. Don’t attack the other person’s character, and don’t blame the other personStick to the specific issue that started the argument.
  • Contempt. Don’t use words or actions that suggest you don’t respect the other person. Signs of disrespect can be as simple as rolling your eyes, saying “puh-lease” in a contemptuous way, and/or saying things such as “Are you stupid?”
  • Stonewalling/WithdrawalDon’t remove yourself from the conversation without warning or in any way that suggests disapproval, distance, and/or smugness. This includes ignoring the other person or storming out of the room.
  • Defensiveness. Don’t make excuses, deny responsibility, come up with negative solutions, or think the worst of the other person.

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Driver, J., Tabares, A., Shapiro, A. F., & Gottman, J. M. (2012). Couple interaction in happy and unhappy marriages: Gottman Laboratory studies. In F. Walsh (Ed.), Normal Family Processes: Growing Diversity and Complexity (4th ed., pp. 57–77). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Gottman, J. M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60(1), 5–22. doi:10.2307/353438

Holman, T. B., & Jarvis, M. O. (2003). Hostile, volatile, avoiding, and validating couple-conflict types: An investigation of Gottman's couple-conflict types. Personal Relationships, 10(2), 267–282. doi:10.1111/1475-6811.00049