Encounters of a marital kind

Disagreements need not break a healthy relationship if some ground rules of confrontation are kept in mind

Couple fighting

Differences of opinion are bound to exist between two intelligent human beings, and a confrontation is the natural result of such differences. But, whether the confrontation is constructive or destructive will depend largely on what you argue about, how you argue out your points of view, and also on how you end the confrontation.

Disagreements and subsequent arguments can be very healthy and can actually lead to some much needed constructive changes in the relationship. So, rather than engaging in a cold war – where both partners are feeling embittered and are smouldering below the surface – it is better to have it out by giving a voice to legitimate feelings. Having a heart to heart conversation will leave you feeling light, almost as if you have had an emotional bath, while at the same time it will give the relationship an opportunity to evolve.

An important point to be noted is that if you know what you are arguing about is unreasonable on your part, and you are only trying to assert yourself, give it up right away, because you may win, but your relationship will lose. If you have decided that the “I” [ego] is to win at any cost, is it any wonder then that the “we” [relationship] loses? It is an either/or situation.

Even if what you are arguing about is reasonable, there are specific rules of engagement which you need to adhere to, or else once again you may end up winning the battle but losing the war.

Rules of confrontation

Stay with the subject

This means that the argument must stay focussed on the subject matter of discussion and not deteriorate into a free-for-all – where histories are raked up, other matters taken up and personal attacks are made. If this is allowed to happen, then you get de-focussed from the subject and nothing gets resolved. For instance, if the discussion is about the interference of the wife’s mother in the couple’s life, it should not change into the wife getting defensive and saying, “Well what about your “stupid” sister and your “dominating” father? Both partners must keep the awareness of the topic of discussion and remind oneself and the other by saying, “Let’s stay on the subject of your mother and talk about other issues at another time”.

Identify the real issue

Very often there are deeper underlying issues which manifest as certain symptoms. For example anger is merely a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, frustration, pain or low self-worth. All the energy expended in an argument is wasted if the underlying issue is left unaddressed, and the argument leaves you feeling even more frustrated. It is wiser to say “I feel rejected because you choose to spend most of your free time watching cricket instead of doing activities with me”, instead of “You never spend time with me” or “You are so self-centred”. You have to talk about what is really going on inside you and have the courage to give a voice to your innermost feelings.

Know when to stop

There may be times when you are so driven by your anger, that even though your partner has apologised and acknowledged his/her contribution to the problem, you fail to recognise that you have already got what you wanted. Very often your partner may readily and quickly give you what you wanted but you are not yet finished with your anger. You go on and on venting your anger, and what started out as you feeling hurt and angry now turns into your partner feeling hurt and angry.

Simply state your point

Every issue or disagreement does not always require a thrashing out. Even if you are in the right, sometimes it is wise to simply and confidently state your point of view or your feeling without anxiously waiting for a response. That does not mean that I am advocating passivity. It simply means that even when you are justified in your point of view, you could consciously choose to not make it a big issue beyond a simple statement. The result will be that your partner will appreciate your maturity and the quiet dignity and he/she may then see his/her own contribution to the problem more clearly.

End in a win-win scenario

How you end your disagreement is important in determining not only the outcome of the topic of disagreement, but also the outcome of the entire relationship. If your relationship is based on the foundation of friendship, then more often than not one partner will extend an olive branch, either through an apology, an acknowledgement of your point of view, a physical display of affection, humour or some other non-verbal communication of the need to reconnect. This is a crucial juncture, because the partner trying to reconnect through the above-mentioned efforts, needs a verbal or non-verbal validating message from the other partner saying, “We can disagree and still remain okay; we can survive all”. If however there is a failure to recognise this olive branch, or if it is consciously ignored, meaning if the “I” wins over the “we”, the relationship will be in doldrums. So, hearing the call of truce, and responding with equal warmth, will make you and your partner feel good not only about yourselves but about the relationship as well.

“I” v/s “we”

It is important to ask yourself a crucial question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” If you want to be happy then the above mentioned ways will ensure that, but if you want to be right and sacrifice the “we” at the altar of “I” then you have only yourself to blame for the end of your relationship. Every time you choose the toxic “I” over “we”, remember, you are yourself systematically contaminating and destroying the relationship. The relationship is an entity by itself, and it can survive only in the soil of friendship and in the climate of love, and more importantly only if it is nurtured by the partners themselves. So face the real issue that is contaminating your relationship. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy, that is the question!

Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


  1. very good write-up. Keep it up. Remain honest always is real remedy for any discord. Sometimes we have different issue inside and we pretend something else.


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