Couples argue for all sorts of reasons. Mostly about money, sex, decisions, values, child rearing and household responsibilities but sometimes about nothing at all or about the same thing every time. Often the pattern for arguing is set early on in the relationship. Here we suggest some useful strategies for avoiding painful confrontations and developing healthier communication skills which will give your relationship the best possible chance of success.
Don’t take it personally
Everyone gets upset from time to time and our intimate relationships are where it all comes spilling out. We have kept our cool at the office, with the kids and not shouted at the noisy neighbor but then our partner puts one foot out of place and they get their head bitten off. Being on the receiving end of this isn’t pleasant but it will only get worse if we bite back. Try to look past the irritation and anger and see that your partner is in need of your love and support.
If an argument is brewing and you know one or both of you isn’t in the right frame of mind for it to develop into useful, constructive discussion it is better to take some time out to cool off. Acknowledge that you have heard what the problem is but that now isn’t the right time to sort it out. You don’t have to get in the ring with someone who wants to let off steam and if you feel afraid of your partner’s anger you need to take a look at this, bullying and intimidation always damage a relationship.
This is one of the most important points when it comes to arguments. Good communication often lies at the heart of happy relationships and listening is a large part of that communication process. When your partner is upset don’t talk over, dismiss or invalidate what your partner is trying to tell you even if they are not expressing themselves very well.
Try to listen and ask questions to clarify what they are saying.
Most people jump to the defensive if they feel they are being attacked or criticized but it is much better to try to stay calm, acknowledge that the other person is upset and try to work out why and what they want from you. Often people say they are upset about something trivial but when they have a sympathetic listening ear it emerges that there are other things going on for them.
Whatever you do don’t dismiss or ignore problems because the chances are that if you do they will come back bigger and uglier next time. Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine how it looks or feels from their perspective.
It’s not what you say….
Often it’s not what someone says but how they say it that hurts us and we may refuse to accept or understand our partner’s point of view because of the way we are being spoken to. As far as possible avoid blaming, accusing, demanding and aggressive communication styles as they are very unlikely to get a positive response from your partner. It is more likely that these styles will emerge if difficult issues between you aren’t being talked about on a regular basis as resentments may build up until one or both of you reach boiling point.
Most couples tend to start out arguing about one thing and end up arguing about the way they are arguing. Men often invalidate a woman’s feelings because they are likely to respond to the facts of what she is saying rather than the feelings behind it. Women tend to criticize and diminish men by accusing them of not fulfilling their needs even though they haven’t been clear about what those needs are.
If you are a man try to respond to your partner’s feelings without getting into the facts, for example, if she says ‘you never listen to me’ don’t give her ten examples of times when you did listen, instead understand she is feeling vulnerable and needs you to listen to her now.
If you are a woman be aware that when you are talking to a man about a difficult subject don’t criticize or blame him for your unhappiness. Be direct and clear about what it is you are trying to say and what you want from him.
Healing from an argument
Look at your part and say sorry if you have hurt the other person. Don’t justify bad behavior or play tit for tat as that will only keep the anger smouldering.
As far as possible let go of bad feeling as soon as possible and put it in the past. If you have been arguing about a specific issue is it something that can be changed? If not you will have to accept it and move on.
In all relationships there are going to be disagreements but if you use some of these strategies arguments can become mutually supportive conversations which are necessary to resolve and negotiate differences and disagreements.