Fights are inevitable in a relationship, so we might as well learn how to fight effectively. Here are 7 ways to make arguments less damaging and more solution-oriented.
Let’s admit it: though we hate it, we can’t help but find ourselves in it. We are talking about arguments. Misery loves company, but when you are living with your partner, the last thing you want at the end of a long day is a battle at home.
We know what the experts have said so far – conflicts are healthy. Does that make it any bit more pleasant? Not really. But there are times when we know we are right, and we also know our partner is doing their best. You can’t help think you both are two injured kids trying to make sense of an adult world together. If your relationship is worth fighting for and the arguments are signs that you both are earnestly trying, here’s how you can fight fair and still emerge closer.
Kal: There you go again. You aren’t listening.
Will: Yes, I was. I’m right here. Tell me.
Kal: Doesn’t matter. You don’t need to do me a favor by offering to listen to me.
Will: Come’on! Why does everything have to be so serious?
Kal: Because nothing ever reaches you, Will. You take me seriously ONLY when I get pissed off. I was telling you how excited I was about the new project. It’s a big deal for me. But clearly, you don’t care.
Will: Excuse me for thinking about how I can get more freelance work done to be able to go on that trip next month.
Kal: You are always thinking about something. Besides, we already have enough. It’s not like we need that the extra money to afford it.
Will: Fine. I don’t really contribute to your life anyway. Why are you even with me if I disappoint you so often?
How quickly did that escalate? Within a span of seconds, feelings from not being listened to turns into not being appreciated, which leads the other to think they are not good enough to contribute to the family. Soon it turns into feeling like a disappointment and not being appreciated on both ends.
Pretty soon, the entire relationship is questioned. Individual insecurities and frustration often brew beneath the surface making things worse. So how do we ensure we fight as a means to fix things rather than cause further ridges?
1. Start Mellow
How you bring up a conversation determines how effective it gets towards the end. Do you fire an angry accusation out of the blue even though to you it seems like you have mentioned it a hundred times before? The first step should begin with a fact or observation. Leave out criticism, judgment, blame, and contempt.
When you start with anger or blame, the first response is likely to be that of defense. Your partner will block you out or filter out what you feel as a means to protect themselves from what is coming later.
When you start mellow, your partner, even if they are a bad listener, starts with no defense in place. This makes a huge difference in how the argument proceeds.
Let’s take the conversation between Kal and Will.
Kal: There you go again. You aren’t listening. (blame, refers to a past failure/accusation, angry)
Will: Yes, I was. I’m right here. Tell me. (immediately gets the defenses up)
Instead, you could try:
Kal: Hey. I am pretty excited about this thing; I feel disappointed when I don’t receive any response from you. Should I talk to you at another time when you can pay attention?
2. Use “I” Statements Instead Of “You” Statements
This single strategy is the secret to get through defensive partners and those who pride themselves to be too rational and not “silly or emotional.” It gets them to think by questioning their act without feeling attacked.
For example, consider Kal’s revised statement against her earliest statement:
Hey. I am pretty excited about this thing; I feel disappointed when I don’t receive any response from you. Should I talk to you at another time when you can pay attention?
(She takes responsibility for her feelings; states how much this conversation means to her; expresses how she feels when she doesn’t get any response. She remains the subject, while she still makes it clear that there is a lack of attention at his end.)
There you go again. You aren’t listening.
(Blaming him and accusing him of all the times in the past, which he probably doesn’t remember or even considers as wrong.)
When you use I statement, you also express your vulnerability, which often diffuses any defense of anger from their end. Try these:
Is it the way I talk? Why do I sense that you barely pay attention when I speak to you?
I understand having things lying around doesn’t bother you as much as it does me. How do we figure this out?
3. Focus On The Issue, Not The Person (No, Your Partner Is NOT The Problem)
Even if you feel that your partner is the problem (they are not responsible, they just don’t care, they never listen etc.), the minute you make them into the problem, you’ve lost the battle. Instead, shift your focus on the real issue—lack of communication, or having to do house chores, or not having enough time for each other.
“I hate cleaning the kitchen, but you hate vacuuming. How can we work around this so that our mornings don’t get stressful?”
“I feel hurt when I share something exciting and all you say is “Umm” while your still watching TV.”
This is an observation; a fact. If you add a single adjective to it, it becomes a judgment. For example:
“I feel hurt when I share something exciting and all you say is a distracted “Umm” while you’re still watching TV.”
Now your partner will get defensive and say they were not distracted. But when you state a fact, it remains true that all they said is “Umm” and their head was turned toward the TV.
4. Attempt To Bridge The Gap
Underlying most fights is the belief that your partner doesn’t care enough to do something—whether that be listening, planning, being more romantic, sharing chores, or making time for you. When you are in the middle of a fight, reach out to reassure your partner that you still care for them, but you just aren’t sure how to meet their expectations at the moment.
Kal: “There you go again. You were not listening. I was sharing something exciting.”
Will: “I’m sorry, babe. But I am all ears now.”
Will: “I was listening, but it might have seemed like I was not. Of course, I want to know about what’s happening in your life.”
5. Watch Out For The Inner Critic
Both you and your partner will have an inner monologue going on in your respective heads that gives a running commentary as you fight outside with each other. This inner voice makes things more dramatic and feeds on your insecurities. While the fact is your partner didn’t listen, your inner critic will spice it up by saying it is because “‘You are not good enough for your partner” or “They find others more interesting than you.”
Calm yourself down by refusing to buy into your inner critic. Do the same for your partner:
Kal: “We don’t need to worry about the money; we have enough for the trip.”
Will: “Fine. I don’t really contribute to your life anyway.”
Here, Will’s insecurity about providing for his family has cropped in, although the conversation was not about finance. Kal can deal with Will’s inner critic by reassuring him.
Kal: “Will, you do so much for us. I understand you are concerned about the trip and been working overtime. I appreciate the efforts.”
6. Offer Practical Solutions
Whether it is you who brings up an issue or your partner, you can shorten the arguments by offering practical and objective solutions.
“I often feel unheard when talking to you, and it makes me feel lonely.”
“I often feel unheard when talking to you, and it makes me feel lonely. Should we set aside 20 mins each day where we can give each other undivided attention?”
7. Be Aware Of Each Other’s Emotional Wounds
If your partner grew up in a home where money was always a source of stress, watch out for triggers around this topic. If your partner had dismissive parents who barely had time to listen to her feelings, the feelings of loneliness and pain of not being heard is likely to be more intense in her when you don’t pay attention to what she has to say.