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I’ve been seeing a certain man for 6 months now. It’s an unusual relationship for me in that he’s so different from the men I used to date. Although we have some differences, we also have similarities in emotional makeup, goals, and outlook on life. Unfortunately we have one really large problem. Arguments. Our arguments tend to be over the smallest of things and blossom into a tempest that really tears us both apart. They seem to always start because I mention something that’s been bothering me. It snowballs from there. Sometimes he brings his ex-wife into it, as in “She and I never argued like this. When we did, it was always about something important”. I have to admit that in all my relationships, I’ve never argued like we do with the possible exception of the two period preceding my separation from my ex-husband. (BTW, we are both divorced. Me once, him twice.) In most of my previous relationships, voices were rarely raised and I was always able to defuse the situation by keeping my tone calm. In ours, this is not the case. In addition, during last night’s argument, I stated that I felt that the frequency in which we were beginning to loudly argue (every 2-3 weeks)was becoming unhealthy. I was astounded when he said that he thought it was a perfectly normal amount. There is so much love, and so many good things that I’d hate to see the relationship crumble. We are both willing to work on it. We can’t afford counseling at this point, even though we both realize that we need it. So I guess I have two questions. First, do you have any suggestions of where to go to find cheap or free counseling? Second, when does the frequency of arguing become unhealthy?

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Cheap counseling is available intermittently from a variety of sources. If you live near a university, check to see if they have a psychology clinic where student therapists can see you for very reduced fees. Religious organizations sometimes offer counseling for reduced fees as well. You may find therapists in your town who are willing to work with you on a sliding scale basis (you pay different rates based on your income). The quality of reduced-fee services may be highly variable, but, if that is what you can afford then go for it. Another option is to read and work through books on making marriages work. A very good and fairly inexpensive one is Dr. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. There is no defined number of arguments you are allowed to have before they become unhealthy. Each couple determines that on their own. Each member of the couple comes from different backgrounds with different styles of arguing. What may seem unhealthy to one partner may seem quite healthy to the other. If you think there is a problem, then I’d say that there is enough of one to pursue the idea of counseling.

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