If there’s too much arguing in a relationship, eventually it breaks things down and you don’t even want to try anymore. I always have hope for the couples I see who are still fighting; it’s the ones who are apathetic that worry me.
To stop the arguing in your relationship before you cross the point of no return, here’s a list of the top ten best pieces of advice I’ve come across during my time as a couples counsellor.
1) Argue with the Right Frame of Mind
For most people, the purpose of arguing in a relationship is to expose your partner’s mistakes, criticize, or to prove that you’re right. Stop for a minute and think about how your purpose affects your actions. When you initiate a conversation feeling like you’re right, how do you act?
Probably like a self-righteous dickwad. I dunno about you, but I’m not very receptive to people who come across that way. It’s a good idea to have positive goals for your argument, ones that produce mutually beneficial outcomes.
A few examples include arguing to explore a topic, to compromise and agree on an outcome, or to understand the other person’s point of view. Those goals put you in a positive frame of mind, you’ll be more receptive, understanding, and less focused on being right.
2) Remember These Two Factors
We form our perspective based on two things:
1) The need to be accurate
2) The need to protect our self-esteem
Generally, the second one trumps the first one.
Your resistance to an idea is directly related to how much that idea threatens your self-esteem. For many people, living a lie is easier than accepting an accurate truth that would force them to acknowledge their flaws. Be aware of how you present your views, and do your best to avoid threatening your partner’s self-esteem.
3) Arguing Isn’t About Playing Games
In a game, you’re pitted against an opponent with the goal of winning. It’s extremely difficult to be vulnerable with someone you consider an opponent, and without vulnerability there is no trust, and… you get the idea.
Every disagreement in your relationship involves both of you. If you think your partner isn’t owning up to their share of the blame, it creates a stand-off. Neither person wants to be the sole bearer of blame, so you end up focusing on what your partner did wrong instead of focusing on how to resolve the issue.
How do you stop it?
When your partner says “Hey, I fucked up, I’m sorry,” you don’t rub it in, gloat, or lecture them. You say “Yeah, me too”, and then have really good make up sex. When you trust each other enough to know that admitting fault results in positives instead of negatives, you eliminate the cause of game playing.
4) Actually Listen
You know you’re listening when you’re carefully considering what’s being said. The big red flag to watch for is the urge to interrupt – if you feel the urge to interrupt you’ve stopped listening and are only waiting for your chance to speak.
If you’re not actively listening and thinking, you’re missing out on chances to find common ground and understand your partner’s perspective.
5) Everybody Has Unique Communication Styles
Most therapist advice seems very therapist-y. When I read relationship communication advice it usually clashes with what I actually see happening in relationship counselling sessions.
A book or advice column might tell you to say something like:
“Honey, I love how hard you work. I know you’re tired when you come home, but you know I’m tired too and it would mean a lot to me if you would help around the house.”
No one talks like that, especially when they’re mad. If they try to it slips into game playing and they do it in a restrained, passive-aggressive way. What they’re really saying is “I’m doing this bullshit our therapist suggested, so get the fuck up and help me clean.”
In my opinion, the most effective communication is honest communication. The honest truth is you’re mad, but also in love – so communicate that. What that looks like will be different for everyone.
I personally prefer something in between, like “Hey, you want dinner tonight? Then get your ass off the couch and come help me with the dishes… you sexy thing.”
6) Arguing Isn’t About the Other Person
Nothing is more frustrating than someone else telling you what you feel, what you think, or what you did. This is the emotional equivalent of someone taking your arm and smacking you with it, then telling you to stop hitting yourself.
Stick to what you know, and phrase things in the first person. Talk about how you felt and what you did or didn’t like, but stick to your own thoughts and feelings.
7) Recognize that Reality is Subjective
There are usually multiple legitimate perspectives on any given situation, and all can be “right”. Don’t focus on explaining why your perspective makes sense – look for common ground between your two perspectives and go from there.
I like to tell couples there’s more than one way to read a text.
8) Forget About Convincing, Start Solving
Instead of trying to decide who’s right, figure out a way you can both agree. This basically means complaining instead of criticizing (yes, complaining can be good).
Most people have a tendency to take what they didn’t like about an action or event, and phrase it as a personal attack against their partner. Instead of saying “You’re so cold lately” (insult, criticism) say “I didn’t get a kiss when I came home” (feedback, complaint).
9) Don’t Forget the Love Beneath the Anger
Sometimes arguing can be draining on your relationship. You yell, say stuff you don’t mean, call each other names. One of the most important skills of successful couples is the ability to kiss through the anger.
It’s being able to let loose on each other, and understand it was just venting frustration and it got out of control. You say sorry for getting out of control, and acknowledge that this is something that needs to be resolved. Either let it go (and only say it if you really can let it go) or agree to deal with it another time.
This is basically the process behind never going to bed angry, which is another really good idea.
10) Avoid Blanket Statements to Stop Arguing in a Relationship
Avoid saying “never”, “always”, and so on. Instead of “You’re never there for me!”, try saying “I know it might not be this way, but it feels like you aren’t ever there when I need you to be.”
Do you have tips for putting an end to relationship arguments? Leave them in the comments below!
And remember, if you’re arguing with your partner and the relationship is in trouble, you can work with me to make things better again.