The Most Important Argument You’ll Ever Have in Your Marriage Why your first argument could last a lifetime. BY SHARON RIVKIN
Your first argument could help heal future conflicts.
The first argument is the most crucial argument you will ever have in your marriage, setting the stage for all arguments to follow. Future conflicts will often look and sound like they’re different, but most times they are simply variations of the first, unresolved argument. Understanding that the first argument is a tool for healing, rather than just a random conflict, can spare yourself years of grief, hopelessness and helplessness in your marriage.
Minimizing the chaos, confusion and stress in your marriage, therefore, is accomplished by understanding what you’re really arguing about. The first argument teaches what is important to each individual in the marriage, by linking back to each other’s underlying core issue. You may be fooled into thinking that you’re arguing about cookies, wastebaskets, fences, etc., but rarely are these "content" issues the "real" issue. The real issue is your core issue from childhood that gets unknowingly triggered by the content issue. All of these elements are present in the first argument, which explains its importance in unraveling the underlying root of the problem.
Without knowing the importance of the first argument, couples struggle to understand their disagreements. They consistently get caught up in the details of the fight, recounting what happened, trying to make their point and then desperately wanting the argument to get resolved so they can be "happy" once again. Unfortunately, however, arguing all the time only creates discouragement, frustration and emotional damage. Recurring arguments will cloud minds to a point where a couple doesn’t even know what they’re fighting about. The same words are simply said over and over again, bringing only more confusion and unhappiness.
Somehow, we often think that repeating the same things that have never worked will suddenly work, and our partner will miraculously understand! It doesn’t make sense, but we do it anyway. The first argument technique is a way to break the old, useless patterns that don’t work in a marriage that keep us from feeling intimate. The first argument is an important moment in the marriage that can ultimately bring clarity rather than confusion. With clarity, we can solve and deal with anything that occurs in our marriages.
Understanding the value and importance of the first argument as a tool to self-knowledge can reduce stress in a marriage. When you start to argue and hear yourself repeating the same sentences that don’t work, going back to your tools of self-awareness will create a framework for resolving conflict. Small issues are connected to bigger issues, and the first argument reveals our bigger, core issues from the past. Once the big issue is revealed, the small issue can then be determined. It’s when the small stuff is triggering the core issues that we can’t resolve anything, and everything we discuss at a certain point seems like a survival issue. The first argument helps weed out what’s big and what’s small. Conflict then feels more manageable and more possible to resolve.
When conflict is resolved, stress is reduced and you have the ability to be current with each other. Being "current" means you’re in the moment with few unresolved matters clouding the marriage. The more current a marriage is, the healthier it is. Therefore, the first argument should be welcomed, viewing it as the helpful tool that it is. Don’t be blinded into thinking that the same conflict will never happen again, because it will. Allow it in and deal with it immediately. Acknowledge your own hurt, see how it relates back to past hurts and talk about that, rather than what you perceive are your partner’s faults. By doing so, you’ll be quickly rewarded with a peaceful resolution.
The first argument technique is not restricted to couples. Its principles can work with any intimate relationship – parents and children, boss and employees, friends, gay or straight couples. Any relationship that is important to us—one in which we have a lot at stake in its success—can easily trigger our unresolved issues. If we don’t care about someone, we’re less easily triggered because it doesn’t matter if the relationship works or doesn’t work.
Remember that when dealt with, the first argument is small. When put aside, it becomes bigger and bigger to the point of being overwhelming and unsolvable. Each time we fight, we hurt each other a little bit more, until we’ve damaged each other and the relationship. Once this has happened, it’s hard to regain the good feelings we once had for each other. A marriage can only handle so much pain and hurt before it begins to break down and fall apart. Therefore, save yourself and the loved ones in your life pain by understanding that the first argument—the most crucial argument you’ll ever have—is a tool for healing that will spare yourself years of grief, hopelessness and helplessness in your relationships.
Sharon M. Rivkin, Marriage and Family Therapist, and author of "The First Argument: Cutting to the Root of Intimate Conflict," (www.thefirstargument.com) has worked with couples for 25-plus years. Her unique insight into the first argument was featured in "O: The Oprah Magazine" and "Reader’s Digest," and has attracted people throughout the U.S. and abroad for consultation, workshops, and courses. For more information on Sharon Rivkin visit www.sharonrivkin.com.