Ask people to gauge the strength of a given relationship and they'll often talk about how much the couple does or does not argue. "Ugh," they might say, "I'm surprised they're still together. They fight all the time." Or a pair might brag, "we never go to bed angry." (In my happily married experience, these people must be either lying or weird.)
This is understandable. Excepting a few drama lovers, very few of us enjoy fighting with our significant other. But according to an excerpt from the new book Stronger Than You Think that appeared recently on TED Ideas, this is a lousy measure of a relationship's strength. According to author Gary Lewandowski, who studies the psychology of relationships, most couples actually need to fight more, not less.
Repressed conflict is a silent relationship killer.
This might seem crazy at first, but according to Lewandowski, research backs him up. When researchers "followed more than 1,500 adults for more than a week, they found that while people felt better on the day they avoided an argument, the next day they had diminished psychological well-being and increased cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, mood swings, and trouble sleeping. Short-term gain, long-term pain," he reports.
Other studies show avoiding conversations leads to reduced happiness and communication for couples, and that believing conflict is bad is a predictor of worse relationship health. Out-of-control fighting is clearly awful, but simmering undiscussed issues are an underappreciated relationship killer.
The bottom line, according to Lewandowski is that "most couples need to argue more, not less. To be clear, we shouldn't seek friction and intentionally find reasons to fight, but we should willingly embrace naturally arising conflict."
Which, of course, doesn't mean he advocates screaming matches that wake the neighbors and days long sulks. "We should embrace frequent low-stakes disagreements and occasional arguments and have few, if any, big confrontations," Lewandowski instructs.
What's true in romance is true in business.
If you're the sort of hot-blooded type who finds fighting without fireworks a challenge, the rest of the excerpt lays out Lewandowski's advice for healthy fights, including his humorously named "CRAPO" method of active listening (I'm sure the book has many more details). But you might also be wondering why on earth this excerpt is worth a mention on a business site.
The first and easiest answer is that the quality of your relationship (if you choose to have one) is actually an excellent predictor not just of your overall happiness, but also of your professional success. Compared with those in floundering relationships, happily partnered people have a leg up in business, just as they do in life.
But a second reason exists too. Repressing conflict kills romantic relationships, but it destroys business relationships just as easily. That's why both therapists and veteran entrepreneurs insist it's better to overcommunicate than undercommunicate with your co-founders. If most romances would benefit from a little more healthy airing of issues, so would many startups.
So when you go home tonight, consider if there's anything you've been avoiding talking about with your partner to avoid a fight. But also consider the same question when you walk into work and face your closest colleagues the next day.