Tempers flare, feelings are hurt, tears stream, mean things are said, partners storm off, and break-ups are threatened. Arguments aren’t always fun, but they can be healthy if done correctly. Here are 5 tips to help you navigate the stormy waters of arguments with your partner:
Remember that everyone argues
It is normal to get into it with loved ones from time to time. It is impossible to have the same opinion about every single subject. Arguments do not mean that you’re not compatible. They don’t mean that you and your partner are emotionally distant or lack love or that it’s time to break up. In fact, arguments can be productive as long as they don’t go sideways and end up in defensiveness and anger. Arguments are actually the expression of one’s individuality in a relationship- they allow for feelings, communication of individual thoughts and assertion of where one stands on a difficult subject.
Use first names only, watch your tone, maintain respect and stay in the present
In the midst of a heated conversation, regression is an understandable occurrence. It is common for tones to change, cruel words to be used and for past resentments to surface and complicate things further. So, use your partner’s first name only or don’t use a name at all. Refrain from using full names, pet names, or any derogatory names. Be mindful not to use your tone of voice to condescend, patronize or attack. Maintain respect for one another by avoiding passive aggressive comments that are biting in an underhanded way and aggressive comments that are direct hits. Also, stay on the current conflict and avoid drudging up old battles or wounds.
It’s ok to take a “time out”
When you get all worked up in a argument, the reptilian part of your brain becomes hyper-aroused and you lose your ability to form rational thoughts. Literally, your brain turns off, and the only way to get it back on, so that you are rational in the discussion, is to let yourself calm down (a.k.a stop the argument). Everyone has different emotional activation and deactivation periods. Some people fire up fast and cool off quickly. Others take a long time to snap and even longer to pull it back together. So, when you find the argument has taken a wrong turn, have a code word that signals it’s break time. Make up something fun that can cut through the intensity, say it and separate yourselves. You and your partner need to first have an understanding that either of you have the ability to call a time-out and take a break from a heated moment. And when things are calmer, revisit the discussion and you will find that with a level head, you are more equipped to resolve the issue.
Use “I statements”
Arguments can quickly become an opportune moment to place blame. It is challenging to take responsibility without using a “but you…” statement. That is why it is important to talk about how you experience something and frame it in an “I statement” (e.g. I feel frustrated when there are dishes left in the sink), rather than pointing fingers at what the other person is doing. This way of communicating minimizes the opportunity for defensiveness and maximizes productive conversation. Really listen to your partner rather than thinking of your rebuttal. We all need to alternate between being senders and receivers of information. It’s impossible to play both roles simultaneously.
Opinions and feelings CANNOT be wrong
You’re suppose to disagree but you also need to make room for differences . Each partner is entitled to his or her own feelings and opinions and each partner must show respect to the other person, regardless if they agree or not. This means no invalidating, no belittling and definitely no laughing at the other person during an argument. Try phrases like “I respect that, but I think ______” or “I hear what you are saying, but I’m on a different page.”
The overall health of a relationship is largely determined by how disagreements are managed. If you incorporate these tips into your communication, you will find that you and partner are co-creating a healthy, respectful relationship where differences can be tolerated and there is room for healthy separation.
Kevin Barr, Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology