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How To Stop Arguing and Start Loving!
by Steven M. Cohn, Ph.D.
Dr. Steven Cohn
"We can't seem to stop arguing!"

This is the opening line for many couples entering couples therapy. Too many relationships that were once filled with love, fun, and romance slowly erode into emotional stagnation and frequent verbal confrontation. The good news is that for many couples this pattern of painful negativity can be turned around.

Changes don't happen over night and definitely won't happen if you and your partner aren't willing to put in some effort, but if both of you can muster even a little cooperation and hope, the following exercise may help you break the vicious argument cycle. At first this exercise might feel slightly mechanical or awkward. Don't be too concerned. Those feelings will likely pass as you practice and gain experience and confidence.

If you want to talk to your partner about a sensitive topic and you are afraid the discussion will end in an argument, try this exercise. I'll use a fictional couple, Dave and Sharon, to illustrate.

Sharon, fearing that an argument is about to erupt, asks Dave for a couple's meeting. They delay their conversation and select a meeting time when they can be alone together for at least thirty minutes. They bring a watch or timer to the meeting.

Sharon sets the timer for ten minutes and, with Dave sitting silently and attentively, she begins to talk about her concerns. Although Sharon may offer complaints to Dave, it is not okay for Sharon to criticize or blame Dave. Dave's job is to listen without speaking until the timer goes off. When the timer does go off, Dave resets it for two or three minutes.

Now it's time for Dave to talk, but with one condition: Dave is simply to tell Sharon what he believes she has just said. Sharon sits and listens to Dave. When the timer goes off, Sharon resets it for two or three minutes.

Sharon uses these remaining few minutes to clarify or correct anything that she believes Dave is not understanding about her position or her feelings. This is the end of the first round.

Dave and Sharon now reverse rolls and repeat the same exercise. They repeat as many rounds as they have the time and energy to complete.

If these exercises don't lead to fewer arguments in your relationship, it might be time to consider seeing a relationship specialist.

If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm yourself or someone else, please phone the 24-hour-per-day Crisis Line at 215-7082. A trained counselor will help you through your crisis.

Dr. Cohn is the Director of the Portland Couples Counseling Center. He specializes in treating couples from all backgrounds. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cohn or if you would like to request a brochure, please phone 650-7230.