Marriage Arguments: Can All Conflicts Be Resolved?

Why this resource is helpful:

Marriage arguments can be upsetting. Most therapists agree that fixing marriage problems requires that couples learn to resolve their differences collaboratively, without criticism, anger or fighting. Where we differ is on the question of whether all marriage conflicts can be resolved that way.

Marriage researcher John Gottman says "No. Of course all conflicts cannot be resolved."

By contrast, as a marriage therapist and an author on multiple books about how to resolve conflict, I myself espouse the opposite perspective. I say adamantly "Yes. All marriage conflicts can be resolved."

I was delighted therefore when in response to my recent post on the topic Do All Couples Fight?, I received a thought-provoking letter from the Gottman Institute re-stating John Gottman's position on this issue. The result was the following dialogue resolving our conflict.

Why is the question about whether all marriage arguments can be resolved important?

John Gottman is a highly respected marriage researcher, and deservedly so. His studies of the causes of divorce for instance enable him to predict with impressive accuracy which newly married couples are likely to succeed in staying together and which will be likely to split up. When a person of this stature states that "of course we know that all conflicts can not be resolved," other therapy professionals listen. The result is that his view has become quite prevalent among marriage therapists, who therefore give up too easily on expecting to be able to guide the couples they work with to agreement when they differ.

I see marriage arguments as being the equivalent of accidents on a roadway. Skillful drivers aim for a zero accident record. I regard it as vital, for the safety of their relationship, that spouses upgrade their skills until their odds of having perpetual marriage conflicts goes down to virtually zero.

The rest of this blogpost reprints a lightly edited version of the discussion between the Gottman Institute and me from that took place in the Comments to my Do All Couples Fight? article. Warmest thanks to the Gottman Institute, and also to the several other therapists/educators who contributed their perspectives, for participating in this discussion.

Can all marriage conflicts be resolved? Two leading marriage psychologists, Dr. Gottman and Dr. Heitler, attempt to resolve their opposing views on this issue.
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