The art of the argument

It might be bad news for your crockery, but scientists now claim that a blazing row with the 'other half' can also be good for your health. But is that just fighting talk? We asked a panel of experts...
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The Independent Online

Virginia Ironside

An author and agony aunt, Virginia Ironside writes The Independent's weekly Dilemmas column. She was married for five years in the 1970s and is now single.

I was married a long time ago and we never rowed, but we didn't talk about our feelings either, which was terribly destructive. Perhaps if we had been more open with each other, it might have lasted longer. But arguing is never the answer. Rows are absolutely the pits. Nobody likes them and I'd say if anything they shorten our lives.

I even think bottling things up is better than having rows. It's a fanciful idea to say they clear the air. You might as well say that the floods in Tewkesbury cleared the air there. Maybe they did, but they also left a residue of misery and memory behind.

Cruel words can never be taken back – they stay in the inbox of your partner's brain forever. You always cause hurt when you let yourself get out of control. It's also incredibly selfish to row in front of children.

The only solution to problems in relationships is to talk about them calmly, causing the minimum amount of distress possible. That will get you to the bottom of something and you'll feel wonderful afterwards.

Toby Young

Toby Young is the author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and writes a column about family life for The Spectator. He lives in London with his wife, Caroline Bondy, and their three children.

Although I don't think that arguments do a marriage any harm, I would say that Caroline and I have fewer rows than most married couples.

When we do clash, it's usually because I'm not doing my share of the child care. But when she protests, I surrender, so it rarely escalates into a full-scale row. It's a strategy I would recommend to all husbands – do absolutely everything your wife asks.

On rare occasions, there have been fiery moments. A couple of times while I've been map reading she has brought the car to a skidding halt so she can turn around and hit me without endangering the children. We both have fairly short fuses so we do 0-60 in about three seconds, but then it's all over in minutes; we vent and then get over it.

The biggest row we had came a couple of years ago, when we were being photographed as a family by a newspaper to promote one of my books. It was on a beach in Cornwall and both the children were ill. The strain of getting them to sit still and smile became so great that Caroline told me the marriage was over. I was sensible enough not to contradict her.

A lot of our arguments are triggered when we're talking to a shop assistant or electrician, say. My wife will always get what they're trying to explain straight away, but I have to clarify it, as if to engage in a philosophical debate about the compatibility of a DVD player. That most memorably happened in John Lewis when we were trying to put together our wedding list, and it led to a public and very loud row.

Olivia Stewart-Liberty

Co-author, with Peter York, of Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger. Divorced and lives in London

If you never row, one of you is compromising too much. The key is knowing how to make up – it doesn't matter how often you row as long as you know how to make up. That's what they told me when I used to go to Relate, anyway.

There are two types of marriages. One is where the wife will do anything to keep the peace, and not bother to row. Instead, they work out what they want, be it a nice holiday or clothes or child care. But I don't think that necessarily makes a good marriage.

Then you get couples who don't row as the husband is a considerate man whose idea of fun is not to disappear to the pub every night and get legless. If you marry a more evolved male you're in luck, but I don't know many of them.

I never rowed with my ex-husband – we weren't on the same planet – but I've had loads of bust-ups with boyfriends, many ending in one of us getting out of the car. I remember once on the way to the airport when the boyfriend was criticising my driving and it really got on my nerves. I stopped the car and he got out. I didn't know whether to drive off and get the plane on my own, but in the end I went back for him. I rather hated myself for that.

Kathy Lette

Kathy Lette is the Australian-born author of Foetal Attraction, Mad Cows and How to Kill Your Husband (And Other Handy Household Hints). She lives in London with her husband, the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, and their two children.

The trouble is, you think you've married Mr Right. You just didn't realise that his first name is Always. I think the only rule for achieving a good marriage is to make sure you talk through any problems with sufficient honesty to be able to agree that the woman is always right.

The main argument in most homes, including mine, is about doing the housework. Even though women make up 50 per cent of the workforce, we're still doing 99 per cent of all the domestic chores and childcare. My husband says that he'd like to help more around the house, only he can't multi-task. What a biological cop-out. I can't imagine any man would have trouble multi-tasking, at, say, an orgy, can you?

Arguing with your spouse is an innovative, stimulating sport you can easily enjoy in your own home. If you work up a sweat it can also be quite aerobic. If your partner is witty, it can be like a verbal Wimbledon, as verbal volleys are lobbed back and forth. (I am the Navratilova of the back- handed compliment).

Rachel Johnson

Rachel Johnson, sister of the London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson, is a journalist and the author of Notting Hell, and The Mummy Diaries. She lives in London with her husband, Ivo Dawnay, and their three children.

I'm a bottler and Ivo's a venter, so we're probably not a very good couple. His fuse is much shorter than mine and there are flare-ups, which I try to douse quite quickly. But I now see that we've been doing quite the wrong thing, and apparently we're going to die young of cancer.

I don't believe in raising my voice and shouting, which Ivo does at any opportunity. He flares up and loses his rag over very small things, yet he's a master of cool and calm in a real crisis. I'm the reverse – I cope very well if, say, the newspapers are left in the rain rather than being pushed through the letter box, but I go to pieces when anything really big happens.

I can say "keep cool" to Ivo when a child spills his orange juice in a restaurant and feel quite pleased with myself, but I totally rely on him to keep me afloat when a child becomes very ill, or when we've missed a plane.

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