A Relationship & Intimacy Coach shares her expertise on how to argue smarter.
You’re tired of having the same old argument, but here you are, at it again. It’s natural for couples to have rows, and you might be glad to hear that, according to research, couples that argue together, stay together. We mustn’t shy away from discussing tricky topics that could more easily be swept under the rug. In fact, when done right, arguing can be very beneficial to a relationship. But the way we choose to argue determines whether it leads us to grow or grow apart. Read on for expert tips on how to argue more effectively with your partner.
How To Spot A Bad Argument
The content of a fight doesn’t matter nearly as much as the form it takes. Here are some common examples of what patterns tend to lead to an unhealthy argument:
- You often dismiss anything the other person says out of hand.
- You’re constantly on a hunt to gather evidence that reinforces your beliefs and feelings and disregard anything that challenges you.
- You’re always convinced that only one person (you) is right.
Another common form of arguing is when you behave in a way that you don’t want your partner to behave. For example, it’s okay for you to be upset and raise your voice, but it’s not okay when the other person does the same, and you berate them if they do. Often, we blame our partner for escalating the argument and fail to see how we might be the one making it worse.
These dynamics are non-productive and ultimately lead to the same old fights where we either lose our temper, flee or shut down (fight, flight or freeze). Ask yourself if you are guilty of any of these detrimental patterns – or better yet, ask your partner. Once you are aware of what might be causing your arguments to go nowhere, you and your partner can work together to fix this.
What You’re Actually Fighting About
If you find yourself having the same arguments which never get resolved, it’s worth trying to determine the reason behind the argument and pinpoint what you or your partner wish to get out of it. Many times, people will fail to realise the real reason behind the argument they started. On the surface, your partner might seem to be complaining that you haven’t been pulling your weight in chores, or that you spend too much time with your friends or forgot to buy milk from the store. You might get annoyed that they are constantly nagging at you, or are being petty and making a big deal over trivial things.
If you don’t try and dig deeper, you might miss the real issue. It’s likely that they are actually frustrated that their emotional needs aren’t being met, or are feeling neglected, under-appreciated, disrespected or unloved (or a combination of these). More often than not, people argue because they want to feel they matter or want the other person to understand and empathise with what they are going through. It’s not until you nail down the underlying problem that you will be able to resolve it.
How To Break The Pattern
How can we break bad argument cycles? It’s quite simple. Create empathy and be aware of your own and your partner’s triggers. Is it easy? No, but you can do it! First, you need to become aware of both external circumstances and internal emotions so that you can catch things early on and stop the argument from escalating into another cyclical fight. It’s helpful to start looking at your typical behaviour in a relationship and investigating how they were developed.
Our core pattern-learning occurs in our formative and teenage years, specifically within friendship and family settings. The main inputs are our observations of, and engagement in, relationships with adults and peers around us. In other words, our previous experiences in engaging with other people can shape the coping mechanisms, adaptive or maladaptive, that we use to engage with others in an attempt to avoid any undesired experience. It’s up to us to be aware of these patterns and break them if they are not serving us well.
Another common reason we end up in unhealthy patterns is, we often unintentionally invite and encourage the onset of the cycle by the things we say and do to our partner. If we were aware of this, we wouldn’t keep doing them and ending up in unconstructive arguments. The key is to be mindful of your own beliefs and triggers, and acknowledge that another person will have likely experienced the same event differently to you.
Five Practical Tools To Help You Argue Consciously
Set Time Aside To Talk
It takes time to hash over tricky conversations. Don’t ambush your partner, set them up. Find your own words to convey the following to your partner: “There’s something I’d like to talk about that’s been weighing on me – when would be a good time for you?”, then discuss it intentionally (and without distraction) with your partner to help create clarity on the issue or even just release some tension. You’ll also be less likely to take your frustrations out on your partner due to pent up emotions when you make space to express them.
Switch From Reacting To Reflecting
Before you disagree with anything your partner says, try telling them what you heard them say instead. Let them know how you are hearing and understanding what they are saying (and take turns doing so). This helps to minimise misinterpretation and allows the other person to ensure they are putting their message across correctly. It also allows for both parties to build a clearer understanding of what the other person is going through and makes them feel more comfortable sharing their feelings. The two of you don’t have to agree, but you do have to acknowledge that there’s another person who may have experienced the same event(s) very differently from you.
Speak For Yourself
If something has upset you, focus on your feelings rather than criticising the actions of the other person. Starting with “I feel…” is less confrontational than saying “You did this and that”. The important thing is that with all arguments, you both take responsibility for your behaviour and reactions.
Know When To Cool Down
When things do get out of hand, know how to get a grip on your emotions. Take time out, whether that means counting to 10 and taking slow, deep breaths or simply asking your partner, “Hey, can we revisit this tomorrow?”
Sometimes you try to do something different but still get sucked back into the same pattern. Keep trying! If you feel like you’re still struggling to overcome the same issue, you might consider seeking help from a professional. A coach can facilitate resources and tools for better communication, and overcome blocks and patterns to create an invitation for change. I also highly recommend reading the book Everybody Wins: The Chapman Guide to Solving Conflicts Without Arguing.