All couples argue. This is normal and an expected part of close relationships. How we conduct ourselves and how we respond to our partner can either enhance the relationship or put it at risk. Consider these guidelines for having constructive arguments with your partner:
1. It is better to be happy together than to be right.
Blaming each other and trying to change the other person’s opinion are both counterproductive. When we assume that one person is right and the other person is wrong, we put the other person who was “wrong” on the defensive. Get out of this right vs. wrong framework together. Accept the fact that you simply see the issue differently.
2. Become aware of your impact on your partner.
Arguments start when we say something without realizing how our partner will take it. Your partner may blame you for starting an argument when that is the last thing you had in mind. The goal of relationship therapy is to uncover what people mean when they say things – and what it means when they hear certain things.
3. You can’t change the past.
Although you may feel hurt by something that happened in the past, the only effective option you have is working for better circumstances in the present and in the future. Of course, you may want to talk about things which have bothered you in the past, but holding a grudge usually interferes with the productive resolution of current problems – those things which you can do something about it. Work on one current problem at a time, not a list of things from the past. Discuss the problem as soon as possible and while it is relevant.
4. State your needs as specific request for positive behavior change.
It is not helpful to criticize the person’s character – this simply puts your partner into a defensive stance. Labeling a person with words like “crazy” or “immature” or “slob” does not solve the specific problem you need to address, and it ensures that you will not be heard. These words are only meant to hurt. Let your partner know that it is a specific behavior that bothers you, and behaviors can be changed.
5. Use effective communication techniques.
Use “I” statements when you want to convey how you feel. These statements usually take the form of “When you do______, I feel _______.” Take responsibility for your own feelings and assume that your partner is responsible for his or her own. When you say “When we’re with your friends, I feel left out,” you and your partner can work on this constructively together. But when you say, “…you’re a real piece of work…you really don’t care one thing about me when you are around your friends,” your partner is seen as the enemy and resolution of the problem becomes difficult.
When you use generalized words like “should” or “ought” or “never” you become like a parent and this places your partner in a childlike role. Then, constructive discussion between two equal adults becomes virtually impossible. Making sure that your nonverbal message matches your verbal communication also facilitates an effective conversation.
6. De-escalate arguments that are getting out of control.
It is not helpful to threaten the other person either verbally or physically. Any sort of violence is unacceptable. Timeouts are a perfectly good way to give both parties a chance to cool down so that the problem can be resolved later after the heat has dissipated after emotions simmer down.
It helps if a time-out has structure. For example, saying something like “I’m really mad right now and I don’t want to say anything I don’t mean. So I’m going to take a walk and I’ll be back in (30) minutes.”
Whatever you agree to do, make sure you follow through otherwise this technique won’t work in the future.
Recognize the triggers that set off an argument as well as the process of escalation, and take immediate steps to get things under control. Put your energy into resolution of the conflict. A relationship therapy is to clarify this destructive process and to learn tools for resolving problems and restoring personal integrity and mutual respect.
It is a wonder that relationships are as successful as they are. We seldom get any kind of formal training in how to manage relationships well. One lesson that many of us have never learned is that differences of opinion and polarized perspectives are to be expected in our normal and healthy. However serious differences that lead to hurtful, destructive arguments require attention. Fortunately help is readily available.
If you would like to talk about how professional, confidential counseling might help or you would like to schedule an appointment, please call 949-760-7171 or text 949-244-8572 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.